South Asia

Afghan poll results threaten ethnic balance

Winning candidates after receiving their certificates at the Election Commission in Kabul on 30 November 2010
Image caption The vote was held in September

Afghan officials say the result of the September vote for the lower house of parliament is threatening to worsen the tribal and ethnic balance in the country. BBC's Bilal Sarwary reports from the capital, Kabul.

The final outcome of the 18 September ballot has brought disappointment for Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

More than 40% of the country's more than 28 million people are Pashtuns and most live in areas where insurgency is strongly visible.

Most Pashtun voters did not exercise their right to vote two-and-a-half months ago, either out of their mistrust for the government of President Hamid Karzai - who is also a Pashtun - or out of fear of reprisals from the Taliban, most of whose commanders are Pashtuns too.

Although the community was preparing itself to see its strength reduced in parliament, the final tally disappointed even the most optimistic of Pashtuns.

Pashtuns will now occupy 96 seats in the 249-member lower house, Wolesi Jirga. They had 116 seats in the last house.

The results have worried President Karzai who, according to some of his aides, "fears the group's political alienation".

In one meeting with his advisers, the president said the poll outcome could "drive Pashtuns into the hands of the Taliban".

The Pashtuns' loss has been the gain of the minority ethnic communities, particularly the Hazaras who make up only 9% of the population.

The Hazaras had only 34 seats in the outgoing house. But this time they have secured 41 seats.

A big boost to the Hazara numbers came from the southern province of Ghazni where all the 11 seats went to the community.

"The Hazara-dominated areas remained peaceful throughout the poll process. This encouraged the supporters of Hazara candidates to go out in full strength and vote," a Pashtun candidate from Ghazni said over the phone, requesting anonymity.

'Feeling abandoned'

"But look at us [Pashtuns]. We and our voters had to bear the brunt of bombs and rockets, and on top of it the Election Commission invalidated thousands of our votes accusing us of ballot stuffing and fraud."

Another minority, the Tajiks, have also done better this time. The community, which makes up 27% of the population, now commands 69 seats as against 51 in the outgoing house.

Just like the Hazaras in Ghazni, the Tajiks gained in the north and north-eastern provinces - few or no Pashtuns made it from the north.

A senior official working in the country's south for the National Directorate for Security, the Afghan spy agency, said many in the government fear that less or no representation from insurgency-ridden provinces would make it easier for the Taliban to recruit Pashtuns.

"Pashtuns in these areas feel abandoned," he said.

"We are not America or Japan. We are a country at war. Anything that makes people feel disenfranchised could prove toxic for the country," he said.

A senior official with the National Security Council said: "We know President Karzai was accused of trying to favour Pashtuns. But he was not behind anyone.

"[Mr] Karzai's legacy is to unite this country not divide it. We shouldn't be expected to meet world standards."

A winning candidate, however, welcomed the poll outcome saying winners should not be seen from the ethnic prism.

"Pashtun, Hazara or Tajik, they are all Afghans first," he said.

According to a Western diplomat, candidates with a dubious past are a bigger threat to the country than the ethnic composition of parliament.

"You have people who will represent the interests of the warlords. Some are militia commanders accused of kidnappings, drug trade and human right violations. This has opened a Pandora's Box," he said.

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf - a former warlord and mujahideen leader accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch - was President Karzai's choice for the Speaker's job. But with the Pashtuns losing so many seats, Mr Sayaf will not be able to defeate the incumbent, Yunus Qanuni.

Meanwhile, President Karzai's chief of staff, Mohammad Umer Dawoodzai, rejected reports that a drop in Pashtun members would make it difficult for the president to get his future cabinet ratified by the parliament.

"We are confident that we can work with this parliament. We will get the future cabinet approved easily," he said.

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