So we’re not going to get much security news after the Afghan government demanded that news organizations not report on suicide bombings and other violent incidents ahead of tomorrow’s presidential and provincial elections. But what happens after the election is more important than what happens during it. Already questions are swirling about whether the Afghan people will consider the next president legitimate. (Joshua Partlow has a good piece in today’s Washington Post about how many Pashtun Afghans consider incumbent Hamid Karzai to be their only real choice, despite their antipathy toward him.) Add to that NATO’s apparent lack of planning for providing for their security after the vote is complete.
The need for a post-election security plan is evidenced by the Taliban’s promise to cut off the fingers of anyone whose fingertip is dyed with voter ink, among other grisly threats. But on a blogger conference call yesterday, Australian Brig. Gen. Damien Cantwell, chief of election security for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, described an election security plan that leaned heavily on supporting Afghan security forces as they guarded the country’s anticipated 6500 polling locations. Okay, asked one blogger on the call, but what about when the Taliban come to take revenge?
A poor phone connection made it difficult to hear every word that Cantwell spoke, but his answer was that the Taliban is brutal and “we’re not understating the threat.” But the general referred to a recent Karzai statement after the Taliban made its voter threats. “He responded by saying that he would call upon the courage of the Afghan people to move forward and take part … and called upon them to be as brave as they often are,” Cantwell said. “We also have to remind ourselves that the people here are quite resilient.” He added that he was encouraged by the “spirit and energy of the Afghan security forces.”
Resilience is a wonderful thing, and so are spirit and energy, but none of that amounts to a plan to secure the population against post-election reprisals from insurgents. If you were an Afghan in a far-flung area and you knew there was at least an outside chance that the Taliban would mutilate or kill you for voting and all you got from the NATO forces who say they’ll protect you is an invocation to be brave and to trust the Afghan police and soldiers at the polling stations, would you bother voting?
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