Orzala Ashraf Nemat is one of the leading Afghan women’s rights activists. She encouraged women’s participation in the election and all political processes. Orzala holds a Msc in Development Studies from University of London and was selected as Young Global Leader 2009 at a World Economic Forum community.
«Did you go voting? I see your hand is still colored!»
«Yes, I went. I decided not to stay home, and see things first hand. Did you go and vote?»
«No, I didn’t. I know it doesn’t make any difference. Things are already decided somewhere above.»
«The local baker didn’t vote». «The ice-cream man voted». «Not one woman at this polling station». «Some really young boys at that polling station.»
These were typical conversations among Afghans on the election day. Four weeks later, conversations are still full of election talk, as people wait for the results and absorb the continuing allegations of fraud. Those who did vote wonder if it was worthwhile.
The election day started with a number of explosions in Kabul. Although I live in the outskirts, some of them could be heard in my area. The government had tried to stop the media from reporting violence, but I was hearing about what was going on through Twitter: shoot-outs between insurgents and the police, rocket attacks, roadside bombs and suicide bombers.
I started phoning around to my friends and colleagues in other regions, and a mixed picture emerged. There was fighting in Baghlan-e-Jadid in the morning, and the district Police Chief was shot dead. In Nahrin only few men voted, but they asked officials not to ink their fingers because the Taliban had sent out night letters saying they would cut off any fingers colored with voting ink.
Herat had a safe and smooth process, with lots of women voting. Voting was orderly in some Nangarhar districts, but there were reports of removable ink and children voting.
I was heartened to hear that women were seen voting in two of the most dangerous cities – Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in Helmand. Even though just a few women voted, I felt it meant a lot to see even one woman ready to vote in a city so full of fear and threat.
It is clearly unrealistic to expect a truly free and fair election in my country, with corrupt leadership, no proper accountability, and people who violate fundamental human rights remaining in power. Fraud was to be expected. It was also unsurprising that many were too scared or too disillusioned to vote. It is still to be seen what powers were behind terrifying people of voting, yet we the Afghans proved to the world our commitment to peace and non-violent ways of transferring power, refuting those who argue that war is «in Afghans’ nature.»
The force that drove me to the polling station was the feeling that it is a critical time to encourage Afghans – especially women – to exercise their rights as citizens. I admire all those women who, despite security threats, decided to vote. I clearly understood that if I stayed home, I would allow the ones who threatened us to claim victory.
The recent discussions about negotiations with Taliban and the prospect of sharing power with those who do not respect fundamental rights has heightened concern among women that our silence and invisibility would simply give the future president a green light to forget about us. That goes for whoever wins, as they all promised to share power with Taliban.
In the days after the election the Taliban continued their intimidation. I hear reports that they chopped fingers off two voters in the south; there have been more bombs, and even in the north, I hear, Taliban have set up checkpoints. A cousin who returned from the northern province of Kundoz earlier this week said their car was stopped, and the passengers were told to show their hands. The two whose hands were still inked were taken from the car. We don’t know what happened to them later.
As the violence continues, so do the investigations into fraud, perhaps for many weeks or even months. The final voting counts were announced recently by IEC, it shows that the current president Hamid Karzai is the winner with 54.6% of total votes and the second on the line is Abdullah Abdullah who won only 27.8 per cent of the votes. The international observers issued contradictory statements on their satisfaction or dissatisfaction on the results, even the United Nations representatives got into critical position by two of its leading men the Special Representative of Secretary General (SRSG) Mr. Edie and his Deputy’s argument on the results and next steps leaked to media recently. This in itself presents the reality that a possible conflict is on its way and even international community does not work in harmony in regards with Afghanistan elections.
For ordinary people however, the major concern today is not the elections and who is the winner, they rather want this game to be over as soon as possible. Because their small businesses are directly affected by any little political chaos or tension. As Oxfam survey indicated, more than five million people will be in danger of food shortage for upcoming winter. We should all understand that the 38 per cent of 17 million Afghans who decided to vote at first place, were already brave enough to take part in this process by choice (or in some cases by force) and they’ve seen that they have been betrayed. Hence, no guarantee is there to ensure that a second round of elections could be free and fair. The rival groups still want a recount and even second round run-off, but this is indeed not the well of those who’s life will not be change by any of the leading candidates in power position.
The international community needs to understand that such elections are only an indicator for democratic process on their reporting formats and certainly not for the Afghan people. Here, it is nothing to do with a real bottom up democracy, because the indicators for power are still money and military force, whoever has such ‘privilege’, will win the elections. Our hope is that the international community should invest further on a true democratic process and infrastructure building which requires much long-term commitment. The investment should focus on systems and certainly not on persons. Those who have people’s blood on their hands and are at leading positions still threatening the national security of the country needs to be isolated by International community and through their pressure by the Government of Afghanistan.
The experience of last eight years in Afghanistan has proved that the idea of re-integration of warlords into the system failed to ensure a genuine democratic process. Perhaps now is the time for Afghanistan and its international alliances to experiment a new path by isolating the leading abusers of power who were involved at war in the past three decades and bring up the new generation of politicians.
Or else, we will see the same self-serving politicians and former abusers of human rights returning to power, with the prospect of the Taliban joining the political fray – the same men who organized the terrorization of voters turning into politicians. Unless and until real change comes from ordinary Afghan people, and a new generation of politicians are allowed to rise up, the promise of change that has been sold to Afghan people may be a change from bad to worse…---