After decades of war and conflict, Afghans will chose their president on Saturday, this time by ballots not bullets. Following a series of incidents and attacks on the voter registration process ahead of the elections scheduled for Saturday, the security of the polling stations remains a major concern for Afghans and the international community.
In an interview with IRIN, Haji Din Mohammad, governor of the troubled Nangarhar province, said that people in rural areas had voluntarily decided to secure the polling stations themselves, adding there were not enough international peacekeepers or members of the Afghan security forces to secure polling stations.
The southeastern province of Nangarhar has been described as one of the most insecure areas of the country. Din Mohammad said the limited number of polling stations was a more serious challenge than security.
QUESTION: With only two days remaining before the elections, how are things going in Nangarhar?
ANSWER: The election process is going very well in Nangarhar. We have seen various candidates gathering and holding debates in recent days. So far it has been very good. Both men and women seem to be very interested in taking part in the first ever democratic drive.
Q: What challenges do you foresee during the elections?
A: There are certain problems. Due to limited communications and media coverage, people have very little knowledge of the presidential candidates. We don't have broader radio and television coverage and people are mostly illiterate. Access is another problem. The cards that have been distributed in seven months will be collected in just one day. We need more polling stations than is proposed now by the United Nations.
Q: Nangarhar is seen one of the most insecure provinces with threats from gunmen and the Taliban. How would you address this issue?
A: I don't think we will face major security problems during one day of voting. It is true that, during the voter registration period, there were some bomb attacks, two of them very serious, and dozens of people, including women and UN election workers, were killed. But that was an exercise lasting several months. I am sure that during the single day of the voting it will not be a problem.
In the rural areas of Nangarhar, people have decided to secure their polling stations themselves and I think that will be very useful. We have talked with the UN to involve more local people in organising and safeguarding the polling centres.
Q: How do you see the interest and eagerness of the people as quite recently some letters, purportedly from warlord Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, have threatened people in Nangarhar, telling them not to go to polling stations to vote?
A: There have been frequent threats from the very beginning of the voter registration process. We noticed that every time there was a threat or bomb attack people became more serious and the number of people going to voter registration centres increased.
People believe that, to achieve sustainable peace and instability, they have to take some risks. They have placed all their hopes on this election.
Q: There are reports that people will be intimidated by local commanders or powerful community leaders forcing them to vote according to their wishes. What is your observation of intimidation in Nangarhar?
A: There are still armed people, which is a threat. But it is also a cultural issue - even in the past, community elders and heads of tribes used to intimidate their people about who they should support or vote for. I think this culture still exists in some rural areas where people obey what the community shura [council] is supporting.
Q: What do the people expect from the elections?
A: It is very important to respect the people's wishes. I hope that the aspirations of the people will be fulfilled and realised through Saturday's presidential elections.
People want peace, security, employment, political and social stability. People expect that all this violence and harassment, which still exist, will be reduced after a nationally accepted government rules the country.
Q: What is your observation of Nangarhar women's participation in elections?
A: It was quite unprecedented that 42 percent of the voters in Nangarhar were women. But it is very important to take into account the fact that not all of the registered women will be able to come to the polling stations located far from their homes. [Again]I hope the UN will help us increase the number of polling stations.
Q: Will you need the assistance of foreign troops in securing polling centres in Nangarhar?
A: Well, I think we will need the ANA [Afghan National Army] and the Coalition [the US-led forces in Afghanistan] to secure only the Kabul-Nangarhar highway. In polling stations it is better to have the local police and people from the community.
Q: Nangarhar is one of the biggest poppy growing provinces of the country. As the election proceeds, the time to cultivate for the next season is also near. How do you address these two issues?
A: I think we have to leave it until after the elections. All the people are busy and concerned about the elections. We should not make people feel bad with our anti-poppy cultivation campaign before this important and historic event.
It will be more effective to launch our campaign after a more legitimate government is up and running. After the elections, we will hold a gathering and through shuras we will ask people to help us stop poppy cultivation.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions