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North-south security divide could sway Afghan vote
Mon Jan 5, 2009 8:55am EST
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By Golnar Motevalli
KABUL (Reuters) - A troubling north-south security divide could affect the outcome of Afghanistan's presidential election this year, a poll official warned on Monday, with voters still to be registered in some of the most dangerous provinces.
Voter registration in southern Afghanistan, where NATO-led and Afghan forces are struggling against a resurgent Taliban, will start in two weeks. If security does not improve, fewer people in the south would be expected to vote than in the north.
"Because security is better in the central and northern part of the country, turnout most probably will be higher, and turnout in the south, if the security situation has not changed, will be lower," Zekria Barakzai, deputy chief electoral officer at the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, told Reuters.
An exact date for the poll has not yet been set.
The geographic spread of voters could be a deciding factor in the outcome of the vote in Afghanistan, where long-standing and complex ethnic, tribal and local rivalries often pit one village or tribe against another.
The relatively secure north is home to a mainly Tajik population, as well as significant numbers of Hazara, a Shi'ite minority who were persecuted under the Sunni Muslim Taliban.
The south and east, on the frontline of the fight against Islamist insurgents, are predominantly Pashtun, one of Afghanistan's largest ethnic groups.
"The big challenge of the election will be security. The north-south divide will be an issue, and we want to avoid that, we want to provide equal opportunity to every citizen of Afghanistan," Barakzai said.
"We are in a traditional country. In Afghanistan, things will not change overnight and it will take time for people to choose personalities and not by their ethnicity," he said.
SO FAR, SO GOOD
The fourth and final round of voter registration, which starts in two weeks, covers the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan and Nimroz, where more than 18,000 foreign troops are battling Taliban insurgents.
"Our concerns are security-affected areas in the east and south, but we will do everything possible to make universal elections," Barakzai said
He said 650,000 people, 34 percent of them women, had registered so far in phase three which is underway in the eastern provinces bordering Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.
"Phase three is going very well and beyond our expectations," Barakzai said.
Five electoral workers were kidnapped during the third phase of registration. All were released with the help of the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army, Barakzai said. Continued...
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