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PESHAWAR/QUETTA: DPs take active part in polls

October 10, 2004

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PESHAWAR/QUETTA, Oct 9: An overwhelming number of displaced Afghans cast their votes in their country's first-ever direct presidential elections despite threats from remnants of Taliban with most of them yearning for peace in their homeland.

No major untoward incident was reported from anywhere in Pakistan, including the NWFP, Balochistan and Islamabad regions.

Voters expressed optimism about eliminating what they termed the culture of warlords, terrorism and poverty in Afghanistan. Some of them have been living in Pakistan for the past 25 years.

A handout issued by the International Organisation for Migration quoted its representatives as saying that by mid-day, 350,000 Afghans had cast their votes four hours ahead of the close of the polling.

IOM's regional head Stuart Poucher in Peshawar said that only two minor incidents were reported from the NWFP.

A polling station was attacked on Friday night in the city suburbs after which officials beefed up security measures.

Unidentified people lobbed three hand grenades on a polling station in the Urmer area near Peshawar, wounding one policeman, adding that they had also exchanged fire with the police personnel.

Mr Poucher said that a Russian-made missile was discovered near a polling station in the Kotke Camp in Hangu district on Saturday morning. It was later defused by the bomb disposal unit, he added.

Fifty platoons of the Frontier Constabulary and police had been deployed at sensitive polling centres. Armoured personnel carries were also seen parked outside some refugee camps.

Election staff said that a large number of voters had cast their votes before noon in the Dag Besud and Jalozai refugee camps.

The total number of registered Afghan voters in Pakistan is 740,000 with 410,000 living in the NWFP.

IOM, conducting the landmark Afghan presidential polls in Pakistan and Iran, had set up total 424 polling stations in the Peshawar region and divided the NWFP in four regions - Peshawar, Abbottabad, Mardan and Kohat.

It was learnt that refugees living in the Shamshato Refugee Camp near Peshawar boycotted the polls. The camp has remained a stronghold of the chief of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, Gulbadin Hikmatyar.

Other areas where polls could not be conducted included South and North Waziristan tribal agencies and Chitral district because of security and operational reasons.

Our staff correspondent from Quetta adds: Voters thronged at polling stations in Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan amid tight security. No untoward incident was reported from anywhere in the province except an explosion in the Posti refugee camp in the Dalbandin area.

Unknown persons had planted a bomb in the Posti area which exploded just before the start of the polling. The explosion delayed the polling process by an hour but it resumed after a thorough search of the area.

The polling started in 550 polling stations set up in Quetta and other areas in Balochistan at 7am and continued till 4pm without any break.

Unexpected cold weather had no effect on Afghan voters, who had gathered outside the polling stations in large numbers.

The turnout of women voters was low in the first two hours of the voting but they showed up in large numbers after 11am and long queues were seen outside polling stations.

The ethnic divide was visible in different areas here with Pukhtoons favouring President Hamid Karzai while Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras appeared to be voting for other presidential candidates.

Interestingly, Afghan voters continued to cast their votes despite the announcement by 15 other Afghan presidential candidates to boycott the election and said that they were not aware of any such announcement.

The director of the International Organization for Migration in Balochistan, Richard Atwood, said that the turnout was good and no serious incident was reported from anywhere in the province. He termed the blast in the Posti refugee camp a minor incident.