– The Taliban now have a permanent presence in 80% of Afghanistan, up from 72% in November 2008, according to a new map released today by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). According to ICOS, another 17% of Afghanistan is seeing 'substantial’ Taliban activity. Taken together, these figures show that the Taliban has a significant presence in virtually all of Afghanistan.
"Despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the return, the spread and the advance of the Taliban is now without question" said Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher for ICOS.
Rapid Expansion of Taliban Footprint: Situation in Northern Afghanistan Deteriorating Fast
Previous ICOS maps showed a steady increase in the Taliban’s presence throughout Afghanistan.
In November 2007, ICOS assessed that the Taliban had a permanent presence in 54% of Afghanistan, and in November 2008, using the same methodology; the result was a finding of a permanent Taliban presence in 72% of the country.
The new map indicates that the Taliban insurgency has continued to expand its influence across Afghanistan. "The dramatic change in the last few months has been the deterioration of the situation in the north of Afghanistan, which was previously one of the most stable parts of Afghanistan. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh are now heavily affected by Taliban violence. Across the north of Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of insurgent attacks against international, Afghan government, and civilian targets", stated Mr. Alexander Jackson, Policy Analyst at ICOS.
"Eight years after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban has returned to touch almost every corner of Afghanistan", said Jackson.
Run Off Vote could be Delayed until Spring
Afghanistan’s presidential elections were held on August 20. Since polling day, the Independent Election Commission, an Afghan body, has been counting votes, but is monitored by the Electoral Complaints Commission.
To take the Presidency on the first round a candidate must receive more than 50% of the votes cast. On September 8, preliminary results were released which gave incumbent President Hamid Karzai 54% of the votes. His main challenger, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, came second with 28.3%.
However, according to the Electoral Complaints Commission, the voting process was marred by indications of fraud. Hundreds of polling stations have had their results thrown out; accusations of intimidation, ballot-stuffing and fake polling centers are rife. As a result, the Electoral Complaints Commission ordered a partial recount and audit.
The Afghan Constitution states an election run-off must be held "within 2 weeks after the announcement of the election results". However, a modified schedule had been organised stipulating a second round in the first days of October. As a result of the Electoral Complaints Commission stipulating recounts and audits, this schedule cannot be maintained and final results may well not be known for several weeks.
If a run-off or revote is necessary, this would not be hampered in the next months by the harsh winter conditions in many areas of northern Afghanistan. This would delay the second round until spring – leaving Afghanistan in a constitutional vacuum for months. There are no provisions in the Afghan Constitution to allow President Karzai to continue in the Presidency in such circumstances.
"This raises the possibility of both a lack of legal authority in the Presidency and resulting political instability and government paralysis dragging on for many months," said MacDonald. "There are a lot of questions to be asked at the moment and no good answers being offered. Great uncertainties lie ahead."
Urgently Needed: Constitutional Contingency Plan to Stabilise the Situation
ICOS repeats its pre-election warning, from a report released on August 7 2009, that Afghan and international observers urgently need contingency plans to respond to the situation. "Now, more than ever, the international community needs to establish a contingency plan to deal with the constitutional vacuum in Kabul," said Jackson. "Afghanistan’s future is far from decided after this disputed August vote."
An Unappealing Option: Declaring a State of Emergency
Under the Constitution, President Karzai may impose a state of emergency with the consent of Parliament, but this option holds a high risk of exacerbating rather than calming the current political tensions. "The Taliban has expanded its grip on Afghanistan to the point where holding another round of voting will be even more difficult. The Afghan people who did take the risk to vote in August may not be willing to risk their lives for a second round of voting - especially when the first round was so riddled with fraud", said Jackson.
The next few weeks could see Afghanistan pulling back from the brink of chaos – or falling into the abyss.
Taliban Presence Map: January-September 2009
Click on image for high-resolution version
Methodology of ICOS Data Showing Taliban Presence
Data detailing the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan was gathered from daily insurgent activity reports between January and September 2009. ICOS believes that the level of incidents recorded by this methodology is conservative, as it is based on public third-party reports, and not all incidents are made public.
: defined by provinces that average one (or more) insurgent attack (lethal and non-lethal) per week.
: an average one or more insurgent attacks per month and include residents who believe Taliban are active locally (based on frequency of Taliban sightings).
: defined by less than one insurgent attack per month and local residents don’t believe Taliban is active locally (based on frequency of Taliban sightings). To calculate percentages, the total area of Afghanistan was divided by the total area hosting a permanent/substantial/light Taliban presence.
All the Taliban Presence maps
ICOS Election Update
The Constitution of Afghanistan
Mr Tyler Trippet
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