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AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN: Insecurity hampered voter registration in North and South Waziristan

Peshawar, 7 October 2004 (IRIN) - The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been unable to register Afghan voters in Pakistan's embattled North and South Waziristan agencies due to prevailing tension in the area, which lies close to the Afghan border.

"We have done enough to register as many Afghan refugees as we could so that the maximum number of the Afghans living in Pakistan can take part in the first ever presidential election in Afghanistan," Peter Erben, director of IOM's Out-of-Country Registration & Voting (IOM OCRV) programme, told IRIN on Wednesday in the western Pakistani city of Peshawar.

They had been unable to implement the voter registration effort in the troubled North and South Waziristan agencies due to security threats, he noted.

A major military operation by Pakistani military forces in the South Waziristan Agency (Wana) has been underway over the past few months to flush out Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, along with sympathisers, who are believed to have sneaked into the area during the Tora Bora operation in neighbouring Afghanistan which began in late 2001.

Flanked by Maurizio Giuliano, regional reporting officer of the OCRV programme, and Haji Zahir Jabbarkhel, head of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), Erben said that they could not enter an area unless security clearance had been given to the IOM members.

He noted, however, that apart from the two tribal agencies, the registration of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan had been conducted peacefully in the whole of the country, saying that it was a good omen that no violent incident had been reported anywhere.

Some 740,000 Afghans living in Pakistan have been registered to vote in the forthcoming Afghan presidential election, scheduled to be held on 9 October, following a four-day registration period in Pakistan that ended on Tuesday.

Initially three days had been scheduled for the registration, but due to positive feedback from ordinary Afghans, an extra day was added, Erben explained, allowing another 175,000 more Afghans to register.

The IOM official noted that 28 percent of all Afghans registered to vote in Pakistan were female.

Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) recorded the highest number of voter registrations. Some 410,000 refugees, 27 percent of whom were women, registered there.

According to the IOM, in Peshawar around 160,000 refugees registered to vote, 20 percent of whom were women, while in the city of Abbotabad 70,000 had registered, 27 percent of whom were women. In Kohat 90,000 registered, 35 percent of whom were women, and another 90,000 registered in Mardan, 32 percent of whom were women.

Erben noted that in the southwestern province of Balochistan, the total number of registrants was 320,000, 29 percent of whom were women.

In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, another 10,000 registered, 16 percent of who were women, he added.

Regarding ballot boxes and ballot papers being shifted to selected areas, he explained: "In order to avoid the doubts of rigging, all necessary equipment, as well as ballot papers, will be shifted to the polling stations on the eve of the election date."

The UN official praised the cooperation from the Pakistani government, adding that in order to maintain order and avert any untoward incidents on polling day, the Pakistani law enforcement agencies had made foolproof arrangements.

The polling, Erben said, would start at 7 am on Saturday and continue until 4 pm, at which point the sealed ballot boxes would be escorted to the Afghan capital, Kabul, for counting.

Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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