March 13, 2015 -
The introduction of biometric identification cards could prevent voter fraud in Afghanistan’s elections and ultimately make it a more fair electoral process, said speakers at a series of Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) organized debates held in the country.
The government first announced plans in 2009 to implement the biometric identification cards, which would store the voter’s fingerprints, digital photos, personal and family status, and place of residence.
Despite the biometric ID card providing a more accurate profile of the Afghanistan population, its rollout has been hindered by a slew of logistical issues and controversy surrounding card holders being described as “Afghan”.
The term is mainly intended to mean “Afghanistan nationals”, but also implies a reference to ethnic Pashtuns.
Speakers at the IWPR debates in Kunar, Nangarhar, Zabul and Khost provinces last month championed the ID cards, stating that it would improve the transparency of the elections, as well as help the security agencies verify the identities of voters.
“Fraud is easy with the current identity cards,” said Abdul Moqim Afghan, head of provincial information and culture department. “However, they [fraudsters] cannot obtain the new electronic identity cards. The identities of all voters will be known.”
He also said that the data gathered for the ID cards would help to develop an accurate population database.
Many speakers were frustrated by the series of delays in issuing the new biometric cards, as the country draws closer to the September parliamentary election.
“There are some in government circles whose interests could be harmed by the electronic ID cards,” said civil society activist Mohammad Hotak. “If distribution of the electronic cards starts, elections will immediately become transparent. Therefore, those who want to create opportunities for fraud are obstructing distribution.”
Speakers at a debate in Kunar in eastern Afghanistan explained the delays behind the biometric ID cards.
Huritullah, from the provincial government’s IT department, said that while the national telecoms ministry had made all the necessary arrangements, the program continues to be plagued by a number of challenges.
The main issues have been a disagreement about whether to include ethnicity, last year’s lengthy process of electing a new president due to a run-off vote and allegations of corruption, and continuing security issues.
“Security is an important issue for us,” said Huritullah. “Even if we started distributing identity cards in Kunar today, there are districts of the province where there’s no security. People from those areas cannot come to the centre and get their ID cards, and officials cannot go out to their areas because the conditions aren’t right.”
Previously reported, the Afghan government is deploying Afghan Wireless Communication Company’s biometric mobile payment system to distribute salary payments to government employees.