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Warlords, Not Taliban, Making Life Hard For Voters In Quiet Afghan Northeast

Supporters of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah wait for the start of an election rally in Parwan Province on March 20.
Supporters of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah wait for the start of an election rally in Parwan Province on March 20.
Compared with the rest of the country, which is plagued by frequent militant attacks and bombings, Afghanistan's northeastern Kapisa and Parwan provinces enjoy relative peace and stability. Taliban militants don't enjoy a strong presence there.

Despite this, some villagers in the two neighboring provinces say they won't be casting their ballots in the April 5 elections because they fear reprisals from local warlords.

Unlike the Taliban, which has publicly vowed to disrupt the polls, warlords in Kapisa and Parwan provinces haven't warned people against voting in the presidential and provincial elections.

In fact, they're actually urging people to cast their ballots -- but only in favor of candidates chosen by the warlords.

"Different warlords back different candidates, and they demand that people vote for them," says a resident of Kapisa's Koh Band district who doesn't want to give his name for fear of punitive attacks.

"Some armed groups say, 'We vote for this or that candidate,'" he says. "Obviously, people living in areas under their control have no choice but to vote for candidates the warlords tell them to vote for. These [armed] groups are no better than the Taliban. There is no difference between them and the Taliban militants."

Koh Band residents accuse long-standing rival warlords Gul Nazim and Zabet Wakil of sowing fear.

Kapisa Provincial Governor Mehrabiddin Safi acknowledges that the two warlords control illegal armed groups but pledges that authorities will to do their best to prevent them from interfering with people's right to vote.

In Parwan Province, villagers say local warlords are more interested in securing provincial council seats for their own candidates and are less interested in the outcome of the presidential contest.

"Several villages in our area are under the control of a warlord called Commander Nasruddin," says a man in his 20s who also doesn't want to disclose his name. "Commander Nasruddin has been forcing people to attend a certain candidate's campaign rallies for the provincial council election. And he was attacking and disrupting campaign rallies by other candidates."

He adds: "I'm an eyewitness to one of those attacks outside the village of Ashaba. My father and I were traveling by car when we saw Nasruddin's men beating a member of a rival campaign. My father wanted to interfere, but Nasruddin told us, 'I am the boss here. I'm the government, the security service, the Taliban for this area. You can't bring anyone to campaign here. This place has only one campaign for one candidate.'"

"I'm not interested in casting my ballot anymore," the Parwan resident says. "What is the point of voting here? It's not a free election."

Parwan Governor Abdul Basir Salangi dismisses the idea that local warlords pose any threat to the upcoming election.

"We have everything under control," Salangi says. "We won't allow anyone to threaten voters or tell them, 'You must vote for a candidate I tell you to vote for.'"

-- Farangis Najibullah with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan