New Internationalist

Bombs, bikes and handsome boys – Aghanistan gears up for election day

Submitted by Travis Beard reporting from Kabul:

With less a week to go to until the second Afghan presidential elections, the expected attacks on campaigning presidential candidates has increased. The Taliban’s tactic is to create as much disruption and intimidation before and through the voting period that the citizens will be too scared to make, what can often be, a two-day walk to the polling station. President Karzai said at a rally yesterday: ‘We should not be scared of the enemies of Afghanistan and their bombs. Even if there are 100 bombs on voting day, all Afghans should vote.’

Being the colourful country that Afghanistan is, the elections are not short of characters. Candidate Mullah Rocketi – who changed his name by Afghan deed poll – is infamous for his rocket-propelled grenades firing skills, mainly at the Russian invaders of the 1980s. The former Taliban commander claims to be, now, a man of peace.

Then there is also the bicycle-borne candidate Sangin Mohammed Rahmani. ‘This is going to be my vehicle to success,’ he says, patting his bicycle, as he pushes it down a rutted, garbage-strewn street. ‘With my bicycle and my mobile phone, I can solve all the problems of the people.’

The Taliban of course sent their election message out through their online platform: ‘All Afghans, due to their Islamic and national sentiments, need to totally boycott this seductive US process and... join the trenches of jihad.’

We expect this kind of statement, but another statement a couple of days later caught everyone by surprise: ‘People with camera cell-phones must not have pictures of unrelated women and handsome boys in their phones, which is against Islamic Sharia. People should think of their Afghan dignity rather than buying shiny phones.’

Kabul city where I live has been relatively safe in recent months. Ever since the ‘Ring of Steel’ programme – an increase of police and checkpoint through out the city – was set up there has been a lot less violence. We do get the occasion rocket attack, but most of the noisy projectiles miss their target and just annoy everyone at the ungodly hour of 4 am.

TV is the second most used drug in Afghanistan. The most popular TV channel is Tolo (owned by Afghan/Australian media tycoons, the Mosheni Family). Last week it hosted the first-ever Afghan presidential debate. Main rivals Abdullah Abdullah and Ashaf Ghani were forced to go head-to-head after the Karzai pulled a ‘nana’ and refuse to show. Abdullah won the debate hands down and he now looks like the only real challenger to Karzai.

And to end on a brighter note: the Taliban captured its first American soldier since the start of the conflict. Bowe Bergdahl was captured while apparently ‘lagging behind his patrol’. Conflicting reports from two US officials conceded a soldier had ‘just walked off’ his base with three Afghans after his shift. (Who walks off their base with a few Afghans? Smells fishy to me.) The 23-year-old appears in the hostage video head shaven, no uniform and sounding distressed: ‘I am scared, scared I won't be able to go home.’

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