Over 600 community elders travelled into Nad 'Ali district centre this week to cast their votes in a secret ballot to decide the 45 members of the Nad 'Ali District Community Council.
The peaceful and successful local election for the district council of a region which was one of the key focal points of the recent Operation MOSHTARAK were held at the District Governor’s compound.
When this election was last held, in early 2009, the pre-election shura, a meeting attended by candidates, voters and local elders, was disrupted by violence and widespread intimidation. A decision was then taken to hold the election in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, as Nad ‘Ali was deemed too dangerous.
The last year has seen big improvements in terms of security and development throughout the Nad ‘Ali region.
Operation MOSHTARAK was carried out to extend the authority of the Afghan Government in central Helmand, removing the largest remaining safe havens in the area for the Taliban.
This improved freedom of movement along key transport routes, allowing the local economy to flourish. It also made Nad ‘Ali a more secure place to live.
This year’s pre-election shuras, held throughout the Nad ‘Ali district, were attended by approximately 3,600 local people - an amazing number considering this is an area that only a year ago was considered unsafe.
At these shuras, the elders discussed and nominated the candidates for the 18 electoral zones.
Although there were still some reports of intimidation towards candidates by the insurgents, security provided by the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, supported by International Security Assistance Force troops, allowed the election to proceed smoothly and without incident.
The District Governor, Habibullah Khan, welcomed his guests and said:
We are here to nominate a new District Community Council and we can then resolve your local issues in a democratic way.
This election was unique as it was the first time that representation had been given to the people from the ‘desert zone’ of the Nad ‘Ali region.
They now have seven candidates on the District Community Council who will provide a democratic voice for them to discuss their specific issues at district-level.
Insurgents have previously targeted those who are dislocated from local communities in order to influence and recruit them.
By having a democratic stake in the District Community Council, the people from the desert region have been reconnected and have a claim in their own political future, making them less susceptible to Taliban influence.
The Deputy Provincial Governor of Helmand, Abdul Sattar, who was present at the election representing the Provincial Governor, Gulab Mangal, said:
I am very happy to be here today and see the hundreds of elders who have come here from all over the Nad ‘Ali area to this election.
It is important that you nominate senior, loyal and democratic people to represent you.
This is a clear demonstration that locals can take decisions for their future. This is democracy; we have struggled for over three decades for this system. Thanks to all of you for trusting democracy.
The election process was organised and overseen by the Independent Directorate for Local Government together with Governor Mangal.
The Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) provided support with the Helmand Afghan Social Outreach Programme, a UK-funded governance programme designed to develop and implement district councils as a bridge between local communities and government.
PRT Governance Advisor, Derek Griffiths, said:
This election clearly demonstrates the willingness and enthusiasm of the local nationals across the whole district to get involved in the democratic debate. The security situation last year would have made what has happened today unthinkable.
Three other district councils in Helmand province have already been voted for in addition to the District Community Council in Nad ‘Ali. They are in Gereshk, Nawa and Garmsir.