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What's on the voters' minds?

The big issues - security, corruption and poverty

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-08-09 Latest update 2009-08-12 12:19 TU

Taliban fighters at Maydan Shahr in Wardak province, west of Kabul, in 2008 (Photo: AFP)

Taliban fighters at Maydan Shahr in Wardak province, west of Kabul, in 2008
(Photo: AFP)

Three major concerns form the backdrop to Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election: security, corruption and poverty.

Security: While many Afghans hoped that 2001’s US-led invasion would at last end decades of conflict, their country is still at war. The Taliban, who were driven out of government in 2001, are still fighting, especially in the south.

During the election campaign, they have also staged attacks in some relatively secure areas, such as Herat in the east and Kunduz in the north. On 8 August they even fired rockets in Kabul. The main candidates travel with heavy security, but some campaigners have been attacked. In a statement in late July, the Islamist guerrillas called for a boycott of the poll, but they stopped short of threatening voters.

The Defence Ministry has announced tight security plans, including operations to secure flashpoints before the vote and a ban on traffic and the mobilisation of troops for polling day.

Corruption: While most Afghans struggle to scratch a living, flamboyantly decorated homes and shopping malls have appeared in Kabul and other cities, develoments built by influential citizens many of whom are linked to the government.

At this year’s international conference on Afghanistan, the US and the European Union criticised President Hamid Karzai for failing to stamp out corruption. Government ministers and provincial governors are frequently accused of financial malpractice, nepotism and abuse of influence and links to heroin production.

Former MP Malalai Joya is among those who accuse leading politicians of being unreconstructed warlords, often guilty of human rights abuses, and of being no more concerned with women’s rights than the Taliban.

Poverty: A promise to tackle poverty features in all the candidates’ programmes. And no wonder.

More than ten million Afghans, 37 per cent of the population, live in severe poverty, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Unemployment stands at 40 per cent.

Such deprivation reportedly helps the Taliban, who pay their fighters about 300 euros a month, recruit. And it encourages farmers to turn to opium production, making Afghanistan the world’s biggest producer and the supplier of most of Europe’s heroin.

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