Radio Free Afghanistan’s Ayazi: Taliban Intimidation ‘Worked’
For a better picture of the state of the Afghanistan election, I called Akbar Ayazi, the director of Radio Free Afghanistan, a project of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Ayazi moderated Sunday’s presidential debate and has a team of 42 reporters from around the country, including 20 in Kabul. According to Ayazi, contrasting with what’s been going out over Twitter, reports of fraud are “minor” so far, but Taliban intimidation has been heavy. “Personally, I feel the psychological war conducted by the Taliban somehow worked,” as evidenced “by low turnout,” he told me.
Reprisal fears are real. “One reporter told me that he asked someone why are you not voting, and [was told], ‘We love our fingers, we don’t want to go and vote,” Ayazi said. That’s a reference to the Taliban’s pledge to cut the fingers off of those who voted. Around the country, Ayazi said his estimate was that “100 percent” of eligible voters turned out in central Afghanistan, particularly in Bamyan Province. The north turned out at 80 percent; Kabul was uneven. “In Kabul, I would say the morning it was very low, very low. But later during the day, after the incidents — there were three or four — subsided, people started to come to the stations,” he said. It should be said that the Pajhwok news agency has less rosy indications of voter turnout in the north.
In the south, the intimidation was more severe. “Kandahar was OK,” Ayazi said. “Helmand was the worst, particularly the city of Lashkar Gah. You could hardly see people in the lines.” So the Taliban’s intimidation campaign worked, but not “to the fullest extent.”
Ayazi declined to speculate on what the turnout statistics indicated a potential victor. Nor could he tell if a second round of voting is imminent. Results should be announced within three to five days, following a 48-hour period to collect ballots.
On violence: Karzai just finished a TV appearance when I called, and Ayazi said he announced 73 security incidents throughout the country, with unspecified casualties. Ayazi said there was “more violence in the morning than in the afternoon.” That exceeds — though not by much — the 65 attacks that Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for the NATO command’s election-security task force, anticipated on a Monday conference call.
A big fraud issue that so far few have addressed — with the important exception of The American Prospect’s Ann Friedman — is the disenfranchisement of women. “There’s even a report from one province that not even a single [polling place] was available for women,” Ayazi said, and while he said he “believe[s] it wa somewhere in the south. “We have a forum where we’re inviting listeners to write in with their complaints, and a lady wrote to us from northern Afghanistan, from Mazar-e-Sharif to say the governor forced people to vote for Abdullah Abdullah.” Ayazi said he will open up Radio Free Afghanistan’s lines to hear Afghans’ election stories.