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Afghan police unable to deliver election materials to Taliban-controlled areas

Afghan policemen oversee the movement of their province’s voter-registration papers as they are loaded onto a truck at Camp Eagle in Zabul province, Afghanistan, July 6, 2013. The voter-registration papers will be distributed to Afghans in Zabul in preparation for the 2014 Afghanistan National Election.

TIM MORGAN/U.S. ARMY

By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 29, 2013

KABUL — In a sign that insurgents may already be disrupting next year’s crucial Afghan presidential election, a senior police official said Tuesday that his officers have been unable to deliver election materials to 200 polling stations in Taliban-controlled areas.

Afghanistan’s director of Police Affairs Mohammad Salim Ihsas said police with election materials could not access four districts of Ghazni and Kapisa provinces, both still battlegrounds between Afghan forces and insurgents.

“If this situation in Afghanistan continues, we will not be able to achieve peace and stability,” he told a conference of government spokesmen.

Ihsas also warned his police officers not to work for any of the candidates and to avoid harassment of voters.

“You need to avoid any discrimination, whether it is ethnic, tribal or gender discrimination,” he said.

The off-limits voting stations represent a fraction of the estimated 6,845 polling places across Afghanistan that are being readied for presidential elections in April. But the problem highlights the entrenched nature of an insurgency that has stymied international forces for 12 years and continues to inflict heavy casualties on Afghan troops, who have taken over much of the day to day fighting in the country.

Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, confirmed there were districts that did not receive election materials, but would not specify which. Noor has been critical of preparations for the election, and was quoted by Reuters Sunday as saying the government had “failed in their mission” to pave the way for a fair vote.

The 2014 Afghan presidential election is seen as crucial to improving stability in a country that has experienced more than 30 years of near constant war. If successful, it would mark the first peaceful transfer of power in the country since the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001. President Hamid Karzai has led the country since shortly after the U.S. invasion, but is constitutionally mandated to step down before the 2014 election.

Fraud and ballot-box stuffing marred the last elections in 2009 and Afghanistan remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Experts and Afghan election officials have expressed concern about a repeat of those problems in April as well as violence by insurgent groups, who may see disrupting the election as a way to undermine the Kabul government.

There’s already been controversy ahead of the 2014 elections: 16 of 26 presidential candidates have been disqualified and the Independent Election Commission has not explained the reasons behind individual disqualifications. Among those still left as presidential and vice presidential candidates are warlords and accused war criminals.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report

druzin.heath@stripes.com
Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes