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The road to Afghan elections mired by violence

he impending departure of U.S. forces could take with it the Afghan government’s confidence and ability to fight with terrorism

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

A few weeks ago, Afghanistan’s attorney-general ordered the Kabul police to arrest a fugitive wanted for cheating a business partner and embezzling millions of dollars out of the country. The police quickly tracked down the fugitive, who was hiding inside a residential compound heavily guarded by a private militia. But they were unable to arrest him because the house owner - a man often referred to as Haji Qandahari due to his place of birth - ordered his bodyguards to block the state police officers at the entrance.

“I am President Karzai’s cousin, and this man is my guest,” shouted a man in his mid-forties as he stepped out of the house, trailed by tall guards armed with Kalashnikov rifles. “Your court order means nothing to me.”

No one dared use force to get inside the house and arrest the wanted man. The Kabul police officers finally radioed in to their headquarters that forcing entry could lead to clashes with private armed forces. So the police left, leaving a post outside the house to catch and arrest the fugitive when he tried to leave. They disregarded the court order for fear that the arrest, though lawful, could lead to a gunfight in a residential area.

Muddy waters

Afghan officials who are relatives of President Karzai said in interviews that Mr. Karzai has no affiliation with Haji Qandahari, the owner of the residential compound. “Haji Qandahari is in fact a middleman who sends fuel from Kabul to Qandahar and Nanghar,” said the former cabinet member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He makes very good money doing business with the Taliban.

Afghans are worried that state security, which is already weak, could disintegrate completely in the coming days

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

A man who reportedly gave shelter to a fugitive, and is known for engaging in unlawful business transactions, shows how weakly the rule of law is implemented in Afghanistan 13 years after the fall of the Taliban. Not only were police forces unable to corroborate or refute the man’s claim to be related to Afghanistan’s president, but police forces were too afraid to confront him.

It’s years that court order means noting to the criminals, smugglers and other law broken.

With only five-days away to the presidential election on April 5, hope and fear have been raised among the public as they do not know what will happen to them after the election.

Handing over power

Some are nervous that they will face even harsher conditions in the post-election era while some are very optimistic. After 13-years in power, Karzai is supposed to hand over the office to the new elected president this summer if the election doesn’t go into the second round. The impending withdrawal of American forces this year is another challenge as the security agreement with the U.S. hasn’t been signed yet.

Afghans are worried that state security, which is already weak, could disintegrate completely in the coming days. The increased numbers of suicide bombers in recent days and the Taliban’s threat to impede the election, has challenged the government’s authority to provide security for the voters and the candidates. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan announced on March 30 that 748 voting centers would be closed on Election Day due to security issues. Security matters are one challenge and the lack of monitoring systems is another challenge. During the recent assault on the Serina Hotel in Kabul which left nine dead, it turned out that international election monitors were staying at the hotel.

As a result of this attack, two out of the three international election monitoring organizations that were planning to observe the elections have pulled their employees out of Afghanistan.

The main question that needs to be asked is whether the withdrawal of ISAF and American forces from Afghanistan will give free reign to criminals and traffickers to move in and operate as they wish or can a powerful newly elected president and his government can fill the gap? Regaining the international community’s trust in order to seek their assistance in stabilizing the country, fighting corruption, drugs and terrorism and of course poverty is a big challenge facing the new president. Afghans are beginning to imagine their country may one day be akin to Colombia, rampant with powerful criminals, mafias and drug dealers that no one dares question. The impending departure of U.S. forces could take with it the government’s confidence and ability to fight with terrorism and insurgents if the world leaves Afghanistan alone. The only thing that can focus the world’s attention back on Afghanistan is a clean and transparent election.

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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.