KHOST, AFGHANISTAN – The Berlin Wall still separates East and West. A faltering Russia and rising China still form a united communist threat against the West and its allies. And communists – card-carrying “godless reds” – still control the key ministries in Afghanistan.
It’s 1979 all over again in Khost. Though this worldview may seem as outdated as leisure suits, it’s one shared by many of Khost’s 91 parliamentary candidates and their supporters.
“In the last three years, the communists have tried to blackmail the mujahideen; they call us Al Qaeda,” says Maulana Hanif Shah, one of a number of former mujahideen in this southeastern Afghan province who decided to run in the Sept. 18 elections in order to keep former communists from taking power. “We are a Muslim nation, and we will destroy them step by step,” adds Mr. Shah, a mujahideen commander in the Soviet-Afghan war.
As UN election workers begin to count the estimated 6 million votes, old grudges such as these could turn violent. UN internal reports warn of everything from assassination to attacks on the vote-counting centers themselves, as it becomes clear which of the 5,800 candidates are chosen for the 249 seats in parliament and 420 seats on provincial assemblies. Many of these grudges will be personal, but in war-torn provinces like Khost, they will probably split along 25-year-old lines of mujahideen vs. communists.
“It’s true that our people don’t care for communism; we fought against communism,” admits Khost Governor Mirajudding Pathan. “It does have an ideological flavor that we don’t like.”
Yet Gov. Pathan notes that one former communist minister, Gulab Zoi, has traveled around Khost freely during the campaign. He shrugs. “We are a generous people.”
Shah says the Islamist parties that toppled the communist government of President Najibullah in 1992 declared an amnesty for Afghan communists.
“At that time we could have killed all the communists, but we didn’t do that. We wanted peace,” he says. Parliament will be a tumultuous place, he admits, saying “lots of chairs and tables will be broken.” But he says the mujahideen will “work patiently.”
One of Shah’s supporters, former mujahideen fighter Dalil Khan, disagrees with this softer approach.
“This is our slogan: The communists should be killed and the philosophy of communists should be killed.” He adds, “I will not let Gulab Zoi walk into parliament. He killed 1.5 million Afghans.”
Such threats took on greater weight Wednesday when attackers killed a candidate in the northern town of Mazar e-Sharif. Afghanistan’s elections chief said he expects “an endless stream” of complaints over the vote count, due to be complete Oct. 4.
In Khost’s vote-counting center, the greatest struggle has been to ease suspicions among candidates that the vote has somehow been fixed, says Rupert White, chief election officer for the
United Nations in Khost.
There was an uproar when he told candidate representatives only five people would be allowed to sleep in the center to guard against vote tampering.
“They said, ‘We Afghans don’t trust each other,’ ” Mr. White says. ” ‘If there are five Afghans inside the compound, all of us outside the compound will think they are doing something wrong inside.’ “
“I told them, it’s in the governor’s compound, it’s in a central location, safe and secure, with permanent guards out front. And people were saying, ‘We don’t trust the Army and the police.’ ” White chuckles. “There’s very little comeback you can have with that.”
In the garden of his home, Mir Sardar Zadran, a parliamentary candidate and former commander for the radical Hizb-e Islami faction, seems torn between a desire for national unity and revenge against communists.
Three of Mr. Zadran’s cousins were arrested by communists seven days after the 1979 Soviet invasion, never to be heard from again. It angers him that many of the same communists who served under the Soviets are running for office now, or serving in government.
“This is not only a threat for Afghanistan but the whole world,” says Zadran, though he notes Afghans are tired of fighting, and the role of the parliament is to pass laws, not fight with guns. “Now, our guns will be our pens and our tongues.”
Haji Mirdil Spin Zadran, another mujahideen candidate, says it will be a “big loss” for the US forces in Afghanistan if communist candidates are elected.
“Just as in the past Afghanistan was broken into pieces, again Afghanistan will be broken, and so will the Americans,” he warns. “There will be fighting again between the Americans and the Russians.” And in Afghanistan, “the people will again start jihad.”