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In this report:

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HOW CLEAN IS THE ELECTION SLATE? Some believe election officials have turned a blind eye to laws intended to stop gunmen standing for parliament. By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul

DANGERS OF RUNNING FOR OFFICE IN AFGHANISTAN Women see elections as a chance to promote their rights, but there are risks to putting their names forward. By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul

COMMENT: A HARD ROAD TO THE AFGHAN PARLIAMENT A female candidate says that despite the risks, she hopes to win a seat and raise the concerns of Afghanistan’s women. By Malalai Shinwari in Kabul

SPREADING THE INTERNET New government programme plans to bring internet services to the masses. By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul

MATHS STUDENTS SHINE ABROAD Four Afghan students win top prizes in international competition and change some minds in the process. By Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada in Kabul



Some believe election officials have turned a blind eye to laws intended to stop gunmen standing for parliament.

By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul

It's been a long process, but the Afghanistan’s election body has finally approved a list of 5,805 candidates to stand in parliamentary and provincial elections on September 18.

But just how perfect the screening of candidates has been is open to question.

Although the election law barred anyone known to hold stocks of arms or retain ties with armed groups from standing for election, only a handful of those accused of such violations have had their names struck off the list of candidates.

A total of 1,136 complaints were filed with the election complaints commission, against 556 candidates.

The panel had initially recommended disqualification for 233 individuals, most of whom were accused of possessing weapons or keeping links with paramilitary groups. But all of them appealed against the ruling, and apart from 17, all the names went back on the list.

One of the 17, Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a leading figure who formerly led his own militia, voiced anger at the decision. "The people who fought for freedom and for the country are now known as warlords or criminals," he told local television .

Sayyaf, who was part of the mujahedin who fought against Soviet occupations in the Eighties, was also involved in the internecine fighting that followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1992. He has been accused of being a war criminal by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, AIHRC.

The five-member complaints commission, composed of three United Nations representatives and one each from Afghan Supreme Court and the AIHRC, explained its reluctance to disqualify more candidates by noting that so far, no one has been convicted or sentenced for war crimes or human rights violations committed during the decades of strife in the country.

In all, 267 names were deleted from candidate lists for the 249-seat parliament and the 34 provincial councils, the majority at the candidates’ own request.

"Some 250 candidates asked to be removed from the list, including 50 women," said Bismillah Bismil, the chairman of the Joint Election Management Body, JEMB, which is overseeing arrangements for the ballot. "They asked to withdraw because of security fears over incidents that had taken place in the provinces."

According to news reports, five people who announced they were standing for parliament have been killed. Others reported being threatened, and the home of at least one female candidate was burnt down.

Of the 17 who had their names removed from the list of candidates, five were barred for failing to submit the correct nomination papers, one for still being on the government payroll, and the remaining 11 for arms possession or paramilitary links.

"We received reports from the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration commission that these 11 people are still linked to some armed groups or still had weapons, so we struck off their names," said Bismil.

Many observers, however, have serious doubts about the candidate vetting process and say that suspected war criminals and others who hold weapons have been allowed to stay on the ballot.

"The AIHRC wants people to be very careful while voting because most of the human rights violators have nominated themselves as candidates," said Sima Samar, the head of the rights body. "We hope that people respond negatively [by not voting for them]."

Others said they were disappointed but unsurprised by the complaint commission’s decisions. Abu Alehrar Ramzpur, a Kabul University lecturer, said he had expected the outcome "because nothing has been done about accused candidates before, and nothing will be done about them in the future, either".

He added, "We will witness the presence of a lot of criminals in the upcoming parliament."

Ordinary people also expressed pessimism.

Kabul resident Wakil Khan said, "Those who are accused of war crimes have made a lot of money during the wars, so they can easily get seats in parliament with the help of their money."

Abdul Jamil, also from Kabul, said he and his friends had never seen a list of candidates, nor had they any idea where such a list would be posted.

"Everybody knows that the Afghan government, America and gunmen have reached agreement with each other," he said. "Half of the gunmen were set up in the Afghan cabinet and the other half will be set up in parliament."

Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


Women see elections as a chance to promote their rights, but there are risks to putting their names forward.

By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul

The threat came by telephone: "You have nominated yourself as a candidate. Your life is in danger, and this time your life is in our hands," said a male voice.

Soraya Parlika was unruffled. As a leading women’s rights campaigner who heads the Afghanistan Women's Union, she said, "This kind of thing happens to me all the time."

Parlika is now one of over 500 women standing for parliament in Afghanistan. The elections, scheduled for September 18, promise to be more than usually contentious - and for the women, more than usually hazardous.

Afghanistan's election law seems to smooth the path to parliament for women, guaranteeing them two seats from each of the country's 34 provinces.

But in the struggle between legislation and tradition, the latter seems to be gaining the upper hand. The most conservative elements of society believe that women have no business seeking power, and that it is against Islamic tradition.

Dr Shir Ali Zarifi of the Afghan Academy of Sciences says there are no religious bars preventing women from running for parliament. "Women can go to polls and run for the elections under the umbrella of Islam," he said

But there have been numerous reports of threats against women, and some cases of actual violence. One candidate had her house burned down.

Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which is helping with the election process, said it had not received reports of threats made against female candidates.

But 50 women have voluntarily withdrawn from the ballot citing security concerns, according to the Joint Electoral Management Body.

In spite of the difficulties, there are still many women who are ready to battle the odds.

Safia Sediqi lives in Kabul, but has nominated herself as a parliamentary candidate for Nangarhar province where she says she has many followers. She has no illusions about the difficulties women face in Nangarhar, a rural and mountainous region in the southeast, bordering Pakistan.

"Female candidates in Nangarhar face security and economic problems. We can neither hold meetings nor go to certain areas and it will be very difficult for some women candidates to launch election campaigns," she said. "There are some women who are conducting their campaigns in burqas."

Since women in more traditional areas are unable to leave the house without their husbands’ permission, Sediqi said her campaign will be a long slog of door-to-door visits, trying to reach her natural constituency.

But she said that she is determined to stand for a seat so as to be able to defend women's rights as well as serve her country.

Another aspiring politician, Malalai Shinwari, has done the opposite - she comes from Nangahar but is standing as a candidate in Kabul. She believes she would be defeated by traditional attitudes in her home province.

"If I nominated myself as a candidate in my birthplace Nangarhar, the traditions would create problems for me," she said.

Saleha Olkar, who is running in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country, said Afghan women have been held back by men, and most people believe they are incapable of achieving anything.

"I have nominated myself as a candidate to demonstrate to people that women, too, can defend their rights and serve their community," she said.

Political analyst Habibullah Rafi says women have a right to be in parliament, and cites examples of them taking part in elected bodies in the past, for example the Loya Jirga or Grand Assembly convened by the reformer King Amanullah in 1928. During the long reign of King Mohammad Zahir Shah, from 1933 to 1973, women ran for both parliament and provincial councils.

But Rafi is opposed to the kind of control that foreigners seem to be exerting over the electoral process, and reserves particular ire for the United States.

"America has had democracy for 200 years, and during that time no woman has been nominated to the presidency, nor are there large numbers of women in the cabinet… so why are they imposing on others what they don't have or don't want?" he asked.

Male voters seem to be divided about having women on the ballot.

"People have experienced what men are capable of in past decades," said Abdul Nasir, a Kabul resident. "It was nothing but destruction and looting. I’m going to vote for women because women were not involved in all this."

Another man, Rahimullah, categorically rejects the idea of voting for a woman. "I don’t want to vote for women and I’ll tell my friends and relatives to vote for men, because men do what they say," he said.

Fazil Hadi, also from Kabul, declared a plague on all politicians of either sex, saying, "Those who claim to represent the people are frauds whether they’re men or women. They have nominated themselves as candidates so as to make money, and that’s that."

Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


A female candidate says that despite the risks, she hopes to win a seat and raise the concerns of Afghanistan’s women.

By Malalai Shinwari in Kabul

Politics was not my first love. I graduated from law school in 2002, and then became a journalist. I joined the BBC and worked on a programme dedicated to women’s issues.

It was while reporting for this programme that I began to see for myself the problems that women face in the more remote parts of my country. Travelling around all the provinces of Afghanistan to gather information, I met all kinds of women and listened to their stories.

I often cried when I saw how some of these women lived. Even now, thinking about them can bring tears to my eyes.

I wanted to help them, and simply reporting on their plight did not seem sufficient. So I decided to become a candidate for the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of parliament) in order to bring women’s voices to the government.

At first, I had a very hard time dealing with my family. They are still unhappy about my candidacy, and say it is not yet safe for women to be involved in politics.

My family is afraid that I’m risking my life, and also that I am putting their lives in danger, too. But in spite of everything, I made the decision to run.

Being a candidate seemed so simple at the outset, but now that I have completed the nomination process, there are big problems to face up to.

It will be very difficult for me to publicise my campaign. I have no connections with any political party, nor do I have powerful supporters. I’ve had about 10,000 cards printed showing my name, photograph and my aims, and I will distribute them to people.

A far greater obstacle is presented by our traditions. I see the influence of the conservatives as the main problem facing Afghan women. The things they say and do are not Islam - in fact, they are against Islamic law.

If I get a seat in parliament, I will insist on the implementation of an article in the constitution that says that the government must take effective steps to curb traditions which go against Islamic law.

Even though campaigning has not yet officially begun, I am already visiting voters. It is not difficult to see people in the city, but when I go to the villages, I have to adjust to local traditions. I put on a very large veil and I visit men and women separately. This can be very challenging, because in most areas the men don’t let their women go out of the home. I have to knock on the door of each house individually.

I don’t go to these areas alone; I have to take a male member of my family with me. In our society, it is not good for a woman to go out of the city alone. Men candidates can go to different parts of the country and persuade people to vote for them. But I am a woman, and I cannot do this.

I don’t want to be hated by people. I respect their traditions.

A few days ago, I was at a wedding, and began talking to some women about my candidacy. One woman asked me angrily, "What good will it do to have women in parliament? What will you do for us? This is all nonsense – the government has made us lots of promises, but it’s never done anything. We don’t trust anyone any more."

I tried to explain how important parliament was. Then I asked her, "What do you want? What should I do?"

By way of reply, she said the government had promised to build hospitals for women, and schools for girls.

I promised this woman that I really would raise women’s voices in parliament, and that I’d ask the government why women still face such big problems. After that, all the women at the wedding assured me they would vote for me.

It seems to me that I have chosen a very difficult path.

If you take a look at the list of candidates in Kabul, you will see a lot of important people on the ballot, some of whom ran in the presidential elections. It is clear that they are more powerful than me. But I have not lost hope that Afghans will recognise who their true representative is. And God willing, I will win.

Malalai Shinwari is standing in Kabul as a candidate in the September 18 election to the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament.


New government programme plans to bring internet services to the masses.

By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul

In a country where communications are often either poor or nonexistent, the Afghan government has launched a major effort to make internet access more widely available by introducing a digital wireless network.

Currently operating only in the capital, the network will soon be available in 12 provinces and should be operational throughout the country by the end of the year, according to Communications Minister Amirzai Sangeen.

So far, the government has spent 70 million US dollars on creating, and expects to spend another 50 million to complete the project this year. Sangeen said that 9,000 digital phones are ready to be connected to the network.

Linking Afghanistan up via wireless internet connections is seen as vital to both economic and political development, as the government in Kabul continues to struggle to exert control over some provinces.

"Trade centres, government offices, schools and other institutions will benefit from the internet network," said Sangeen.

Deputy Communications Minister Baryalai Hasaam said the government had contracted two Chinese telecommunications companies – ZPE and Huaway – to build the network.

In addition to providing improved communications for the government and private business, officials hope ordinary people, who until now have been unable to afford internet access, will benefit as well.

Currently, access to the web is available through the internet cafes that dot Kabul. But prices, as much as one dollar an hour, mean using the internet is too expensive for most people in a country where civil servants and teachers often earn as little as 60 dollars a month.

Although specific rates have yet to be set, the government plans to charge 30 per cent less than these private firms, and night-time rates could be as low as 20 cents per hour, said Sangeen.

In addition to having their own computer, said Hasaam, customers will need to buy a wireless digital phone, costing between 140 and 160 dollars, and have it installed. They will also have to buy a pre-paid card that will provide them with a certain number of minutes. In addition, the government will impose a four-dollar-a month tax on such connections.

Hasaam said the government plans to provide the first two months of service to new customers free of charge.

Not everyone is happy with the new network.

Hasaamuddin, who runs the Sabah Internet café in Kabul, said the lower costs offered by the government network will hurt his business. "This new system of the ministry of communications will damage our business by 50 per cent. People will get web access at a low price, and no one will walk through my internet café door any more," he said.

But the Afghan Wireless Communications Company, one of the largest of the 12 private companies currently providing wireless communications in the country, said it welcomed the government’s new project.

Mohammad Naeem Haqmal, a spokesman for the company, said, "We are in favour of peaceful competition. Whether it is the ministry of communications or other companies that are providing facilities to ordinary people… it is still a kind of service."

Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


Four Afghan students win top prizes in international competition and change some minds in the process.

By Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada in Kabul

Four young Afghan students did more than merely stun their competitors when they came away with some of the top prizes at an international mathematics competition held recently in Almaty, Kazakhstan. They also changed how students from 22 other countries perceive Afghanistan.

Ahmad Mustafa Naseri and Mustafa Naseri, both 17 (and unrelated), students at the Turkish-run Afghan-Turk School in Kabul, won gold medals while Omid Sadiqyar and Mohammad Rafi Firoz, also 17 and students at a similar school in the northern Shiberghan province, were awarded silver medals following a day-long algebra competition in May.

Ahmad Mustafa said that while he was proud of his gold medal, he was saddened to discover that students from other countries thought of Afghanistan only as the home of terrorism, drugs production and internecine conflict.

"One competitor from Australia told me, ‘I was very surprised that Afghans were taking part in this competition – we always hear that Afghanistan is a major drug producer and a country for terrorists who are always fighting one another,’ " said Ahmad Mustafa.

But now, Ahmad Mustafa said, the Australian promised to return home and talk of the talented and brave Afghans he had met.

Mustafa Naseri smiled as he recalled the moment he heard he had won gold.

"Even though the other participants were happy that there were Afghan students in the competition, they never thought that we would get such positions. They were all left wondering after the results were announced and the Afghans were awarded two gold and two silver medals," he said.

Maths teacher Hilmi Engoren, who started teaching at the high school two years ago and accompanied the students to Kazakhstan, praised the boys, adding, "Afghan students are talented – I am sure that if the way is paved for them, they will be successful in any field."

The Afghan-Turk schools, supported by a Turkish non-governmental organisation, were first established in 1995 but were quickly attacked by the then-ruling Taleban regime, which accused them of spreading Turkish propaganda.

Today, there are 35 teachers, including 18 from Turkey, for the 500 students at the Kabul school. According to Abdul Fatah Sabar, deputy director at the school, the teaching system is more concentrated than others in the country, with students attending classes 46 hours a week, compared with the 36 hours normal at Afghan schools.

The schools only accept male students. "These schools were established during the Taleban regime and girls were not allowed to go to school at that time," said Sabar. "So only boys are still educated here."

Mustafa’s father, Abdul Wasay Naseri, is full of praise for his son’s school. "If my son didn’t go to the Afghan-Turk School, his talents would be wasted like those of thousands of other Afghan youths," he said.

Mohammad Sediq Patman, a deputy education minister, said that if Afghanistan had the means to educate its children, "I am sure they would amaze the world in different fields.

"Unfortunately we don’t have enough schools or teachers and we are not on top of things in the regions; we can’t dismiss any teachers in the provinces. Most of the teachers who were appointed during the war era [in the Nineties] don’t have diplomas."

Winning the math award was almost too much for Mustafa Naseri. "When I was given the gold medal, my heart began beating so fast I thought I had a heart disease," he said.

Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


Afghan Recovery Report from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting is a unique free service providing local media outlets and the international community with objective and reliable news from local sources.

Afghan Recovery Report is produced as part of IWPR's training work to develop the professional capabilities and sustainability of the Afghan print media, facilitating their role as a critical monitor and guardian of the stabilisation and recovery process.

IWPR Afghanistan provides workshops and practical on-the-job training for local journalists, with weekly publication and syndication in local language media. Other activities include training Afghan trainers, working with the Kabul University journalism faculty and reporting on human rights and humanitarian issues.

For further details on this project, contact Abakhon Sultonnazarov at or Jean MacKenzie at


The Institute for War & Peace Reporting is an independent London-based non-profit organisation supporting regional media and democratic change.

Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH, United Kingdom.

Tel: +44 (0)20 7713 7130; Fax: +44 (0)20 7713 7140.

For further details on this project and other information services and media programmes, visit IWPR's website:

 THE WOMEN’S REPORTING AND DIALOGUE PROGRAMME - currently covering non-Arab Muslim countries - will seek to strengthen the capacity of local media and individual journalists to cover gender issues through training and information provision. To subscribe or find out more visit:



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