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Afghanistan election: How to campaign in a war zone

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“We could go around, gather people, and address them. It was very people-oriented and it was involved,” he says by phone from Ghazni. Now, “it’s basically a very low-key campaign, very dull, and it lacks energy that a campaign should have.”

He has only been able to make three trips to Ghazni from Kabul during the campaign. During the day, small groups visit his home. At night, it's not safe for anyone to go out.

“Thank God in some parts of Ghazni the availability of phones has helped. It’s a telephonic campaign, contacting people in different districts and directing them what to do,” he says.

Not just the candidate's lives at risk

But it’s dangerous for campaign workers too: The Taliban shot and killed Mr. Sultanzai's cousin two months ago.

At least three candidates and some 20 campaign workers have been killed so far, according to the Fair and Free Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA). Just in the course of the past month of campaigning, more than 200 incidents of intimidation occurred.

Election-related violence and threats “did limit the scope of the campaigning, especially in rural areas,” says FEFA chairman Nader Nadery, who added that candidates relied more on closed-door campaigning and posters. He says that insurgents were mainly to blame, but also local power brokers and warlords.

The general security situation has deteriorated since last year’s presidential election, according to data from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO). The presidential vote took place in August 2009, which saw 1,093 attacks by antigovernment forces. This year, attacks in August jumped to 1,449.

“It’s worse now that at any point since we’ve been keeping records,” says ANSO director Nic Lee. “And it’s not just in areas where ISAF is pushing into.”

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