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Afghan officials on democracy's front line
30. August 2009, 23:58

by Emmanuel Duparcq
PUL-I-ALAM, Afghanistan (AFP) Aminullah Fazly, an Afghan official who ran elections in Logar province, has spent three months barricaded in his office. He doesn't want to leave -- the Taliban want to kill him.

His election commission office is hidden behind towering brick walls topped with sandbags and barbed wire near a former fort nestling in arid hills.

Security forces have a tenuous grip on Logar's capital Pul-i-Alam, just south of Kabul. Nine days before the August 20 elections, Taliban suicide bombers armed with rockets attacked government buildings here, killing two policemen.

The clash traumatised residents, as did so-called night letters posted by the Taliban threatening reprisals against those who dared to vote.

Although the vote is over, eight police stand guard outside the bunker-style office where Fazly hunkers down with a dozen colleagues, separated from his wife and young children and afraid he could be next for a Taliban beheading.

"The general threats started a month or two ago," said Fazly, dressed in a sky blue shalwar khamis, bearded and sporting bushy black eyebrows.

On the eve of the vote he took the precaution of evacuating his family from their home on the outskirts of town after the Taliban put up a typed notice in Pashtu bearing their seal:

"Aminullah Fazly, you have become an infidel and a dishonour to your ancestors... For you we have chosen the sentence reserved for spies... Today or tomorrow, you will be slaughtered by Islamist fighters," it said.

He kept a copy and asked for closer protection from the local police chief, but is not impressed with the results.

"He offered only to give me a gun. What am I going to do with that?"

Besides lightning visits under police escort to the election commission headquarters in Kabul, Fazly remains in hiding more than 10 days after the election.

At night, he spreads out blankets and sleeps on a velvet sofa in his office, heavy curtains preventing any light that might attract sniper fire.

"The international community and the government should protect us better," said his colleague Heyatullah Ahmadzai, 25, who also sleeps in the office.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) says 11 of its staff have been killed and three wounded so far.

Fazly's fears are shared by counterparts across Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces where voter turnout is estimated to have been abysmal.

In Kandahar, President Hamid Karzai's home province in the south, gunmen on a motorbike shot and wounded election official Sharaf-u-Din outside his house on Sunday. A truck bombing in the city last week killed 43 people.

"It is very dangerous and risky for people like us. I feel the threat and danger every moment," said the head of the IEC in Kandahar, Abdul Qahir Wasifi.

"I don't even feel safe in my office. I can't go to my home village. When I commute between my home and the office, I don't use a police escort but try to keep a low profile," he told AFP.

Some IEC regional chiefs are now back at home, but Aubaidullah Osmani in the southern province of Uruzgan is another still camped out at work.

"During the election, we were always being threatened. Mostly from the opposition, warlords and some of those provincial candidates who had links with other groups.

"I was living in the street behind the IEC office but because of threats I sent my family to Kabul and stayed mostly in the office. I'm still living in the office and my family is still in Kabul," he told AFP by telephone.

By and large, staff have no regrets, believing the election, the first organised by Afghans since the West implanted a new administration, is a vital step towards putting the country on the path to democracy and stability.

But Fazly feels alone in a province that has earned a terrible reputation as a den of criminals and insurgents, let down by the IEC and the United Nations, whom he told about the threats.

"They just said 'Take good care of yourself. Security will be better after the elections'," he said.

"How can you believe security will improve after the elections? It's unbelievable," he says.

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