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Elections and Registration in Afghanistan (ERA) Project

Elections and Security in Afghanistan
ERA Topical Report #2

Jean Jacques Blais
February 23, 2003

1. Introduction

Elections are the negotiation of a social contract, and the parties to the negotiation have to be free of duress or intimidation and need to operate in a secure environment. The ideal is a functioning rule-of-law society. However, few post-conflict societies can claim that political advantage. Afghanistan is no exception. Its rule-of-law institutions, where they exist, are fragile, and they need the protection of visible and professional military and police forces. By professional is meant forces whose orientation and culture is to provide security to the public and support the constitutional order as opposed to engaging in acts of repression and intimidating or advancing the interests of specific illegitimate elements within the community.

The very nature of elections and the high stakes at play make it essential that security be given priority in election planning, especially in post-conflict environments where the danger of a return to armed conflict persists. Evidently, those charged with planning and conducting elections need to take all measures necessary to avoid provoking a return to violence. Security forces need to prepare carefully for the worst-case scenarios. The resulting security presence will reassure the participants, and that very reassurance may well result in a reduction of the risks and the maintenance of a peaceful electoral scene. Visible and effective security measures will also discourage any attempt by spoilers to resort to the force of arms or other forms of violence to frustrate attempts at developing or strengthening democratic institutions.

2. The Afghan Situation

It would be an understatement to affirm that Afghan security conditions are less than ideal for conducting elections. The ongoing Coalition Forces campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban on Afghanistan's south-eastern border is but one negative security factor to be taken into account. The conflict in Iraq adds to the uncertainty. Internally, while Kabul benefits from the presence of the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the rest of the country remains largely beyond the Transitional Authority's writ and subject to the continuing domination of the local commanders and provincial governors. While there are encouraging signs of a willingness of those regional leaders to accept the inevitability of a changing political order, their seeming acquiescence has yet to be put to the test by two very important events: the adoption of a new constitution for Afghanistan and, some 6-8 months later, the holding of a national election that will give political life to the new executive and legislative institutions created by the constitution.

3. The Constitution

The first event, the coming into force of a new constitution, will be preceded by a consultative process that has not yet been fully developed and who's potential for provoking heated debate and disorder remains difficult to evaluate. Planning should be well underway to secure the consultation with adequate forces trained to keep the peace while maintaining their physical and political distance from the exercise.

The consultation will be followed by the completion of a draft constitution and its presentation to a Constitutional Loya Jirga through a procedure that will necessarily be democratic but has not yet been determined. Such a deliberative body will need to be secured from disruption or interference from within the precincts as well as from without, that is, from outside forces that may wish to prevent results they would consider unacceptable. In a recent meeting, the ISAF commander, Gen. Van Heyst, has indicated that ISAF is planning security measures to ensure a proper deliberative environment free of intimidation and up to the highest international standards. It seems imperative, therefore, that ISAF be included in all future deliberations on the constitutional consultative and approval processes.

4. The National Election

The Bonn Accord calls for national elections to be held by June 2004. On January 24, 2003, the Karzai administration gave the go-ahead for election preparations. There are no existing electoral institutions in Afghanistan, nor have there been any national elections since 1969 when fewer than 2 million voters, of a possible 10 million, went to the polls. There is no functioning civil registry either, nor have civil records covering the whole country been maintained since the assassination of Daoud. The task before Afghans, if they are to vote as provided by Bonn, is monumental. UNAMA has undertaken the organization of the elections. A working group of Afghans and internationals is about to be named by the president. This working group, in turn, will prepare the necessary legislative framework for organizing the elections, including the constitution of an independent election commission.

The United Nations Elections Assistance Division in New York has been mandated to recruit election staff for UNAMA, and a number of experts will be coming to Kabul in early March to begin the preparations for a voter registration programme that will cover the whole of Afghanistan, and will be making the extra efforts to ensure that all women of voting age are registered. The security of those engaged in what could be a controversial process needs to be assured, both those registering and those attending to be registered.

The international community has now been engaged in the development of the political party structure for more than a year. As we approach the general election, the activities of political parties and various groups engaged in supporting them in various ways will increase in volume and intensity. Again, in a post-conflict society such as Afghanistan, political parties and those who would want to associate with them need to feel that their personal security is being addressed. They need to know that while they are ready to take certain risks, efforts are being made and steps taken to reduce risk and to prevent the use or threat of violence to skew the process. Candidates or potential candidates need also to be assured that every effort is being expended to permit them to engage openly in the political process in relative safety, free to advance their ideas and policy proposals.

A political campaign, with the clash of competing parties, ideologies, power structures, ethnic groups and social classes, is a potentially dangerous time from the perspective of the peace-enforcement agencies. Of necessity, the police and the military need to monitor the situation very closely and be in a position to intervene to maintain peace and order. It still needs to be determined how long the official election campaign will last, but the security forces must be engaged in support of democracy throughout that campaign, during the voting, and well into the transfer of power and the consolidation of the new order.

5. Professionalism in Security Forces

It is important to stress that the first and most important duty of security forces must be to "engage in the support of democracy." The temptation for the most powerful national institutions, in terms of the use of force, to engage directly in the political process is often hard to resist, and the cases of their having succumbed are legion. In those terms, Afghanistan presents a particularly difficult situation since the use of force is not under the monopoly of the Karzai administration. In fact all the measures being introduced by the Karzai government and UNAMA, including the creation and training of a National Army, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) campaign about to start, the development of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the training of the police, are all aimed at fostering central control over the use of force. What is less clear is whether the training efforts sufficiently stress the role of security forces in supporting the democratization process and protecting its participants.

It has been suggested, it appears correctly, that the measures being planned may not be adequate to ensure a secure election in all of its aspects, from the perspective of numbers or resources. There are valid concerns about the nature of the training itself and whether it can instil democratic values in the trainees with sufficient insistence to overcome previous negative attitudes and practices in that respect.

More international forces are needed outside of Kabul to provide the necessary protection. However, one has to be realistic about that event occurring, given the insistence by the Germans and the Dutch when they took over ISAF command that no change in mandate was to be countenanced. In that light what is being done to maximize the use of existing security forces to cover the electoral process in all of its stages? Does not the skeletal nature of the international military component including the coalition forces demand early planning? Does the PRT mandate extend to a security role to assist the elections? What additional measures are being contemplated to improve the security intelligence capacity in the provinces to identify risks and perhaps permit reducing them or countering their causes?

6. Recommendations

The Elections Canada/IFES mission recommends

  1. That UNAMA mandate the mission to proceed with an analysis of the security requirements of the June 2004 elections, including all activities of UNAMA, political parties, candidates, election officials and domestic and international observers in contemplation of the elections and the implementation of the election results.
  2. That the Transitional Authority and UNAMA secure for the Canada/IFES mission the cooperation of all security organizations and other bodies, groups and organizations deemed by Elections Canada/IFES essential to their analysis.
  3. That the Elections Canada/IFES mission should submit a report on their analysis and recommendations no later than May 1, 2003.
  4. That, until the submission of its report as provided in para. 3, the Elections Canada/IFES mission with the concurrence of the Transitional Authority and UNAMA be encouraged to make such suggestions from time to time to the security establishment in Afghanistan as it may deem expedient to advance election security.