Saturday, August 22, 2009


By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM

Kabul to Kandhar and Hindu Kush to Helmand- the story was the same with shades and colours varying. The ballot had beaten the bullet in the national elections in Afghanistan to elect a President of the country and 420 members of provincial assemblies. Of the 17 million registered voters only 40 to 50 percent turned up to exercise their franchise as per an unofficial estimate. Of a score plus in the fray for the post of the top executive, only two are serious contenders. The present incumbent Hamid Karzai , a Pashtun educated in USA and a former darling of Washington now professing an independent foreign policy; and Abdullah Abdullah an ethnic Tajik from the northern Afghanistan who is a soft spoken eye surgeon and once was a foreign minister under Karzai. The latter is not predicted to win but will become a stumbling block for the former and may force a second ballot within two weeks of the counting of the first. More on that a little later.


The Taliban terrorists had deliberately leaked their sexed up plans of infiltrating into the capital Kabul and southern city of Kandhar to launch major bombings and stage gun duels to disrupt polls. Nothing of that sort happened. They did manage to attract attention by making a tally of 76 in gun firefight and bumping off 26 compatriots. The tally did not go up because the Afghan security forces were on full alert throughout and they were ably backed by the NATO forces. Killing of two Taliban terrorists in Kabul and capture of their third colleague proves the high degree of preparedness to beat terrorists back and not let them disrupt the polls. Of course, if one looks at the figure of voter turnout one may concede the point that Taliban terrorists succeeded in instilling fear of losing life or limb if people dared to exercise their right of franchise. The threat of terrorists was that if they see Afghan men and women with fingers sporting indelible ink as a proof of voting, the fingers would be cut. Everyone knows that terrorists have no compassion and they may go to any length to intimidate the law abiding citizens to prove that the government of the day is non-functional. On the other hand the Kabul administration backed by the Obama administration was equally determined to ensure a free and fair poll without violence. In the opinion of impartial observers who toured the booths in the North and the South, the Afghan elections could be termed as fair and open. It is a soothing feeling to know that terrorists did not succeed in severing fingers bearing indelible ink as a proof of participating in the democratic process.

Women in the Afghan society are by and large non-entities. However, they made their presence felt in all major cities. They were not much in evidence in rural areas and non-descript towns. The first woman to vote in Kabul was none other than the wife of President Hamid Karzai. She was calm and composed and betrayed no sign of fear of terrorists. Indeed both the husband and wife voted in a polling booth near the Presidential Palace and had been provided a heavy security cover. Moreover, there were two women candidates too in the fray. The political observers do not rate their chances of making a dent in votes of serious candidates as high. Anyway they will go down in history as women candidates who challenged established male candidates in a male dominated Islamic society. As mentioned earlier in another despatch by this correspondent one of the female candidates always dressed as a man to merge in the milieu. We must give due credit to women voters too. Wearing Burqas or just head scarves they came out of the house despite Taliban warning and exercised their franchise. One may safely surmise that the Afghan social set up is undergoing a change for the better. A word of warning to the progressive elements in the society should be sounded. The bearded Mullahs of the old and archaic school may be down but they are not yet out.


The polling is over. It had started at 7 AM and went on till 4 PM on 20 August 2009. At some booths extra time was officially allowed to make up for the administrative delays. In any case, all those who had lined up in the booth before the expiry time were allowed to vote. Where do the Afghans go from here? Well, a success is a success, howsoever moderate it may be. The age old saying is – Nothing succeeds like success. Despite the low turnout 50 percent or so compared to 70 percent or so in the first presidential election in 2004, 9.5 million Afghan men and women have voted this year. Who can ignore their preference for a democracy? Not even the Kalashnikov wielding terrorists. The people’s power is stronger than the terror power. In Afghanistan the power now comes out of the ballot box and not out of the gun. The social and political environment is undergoing a change. What will be the outcome of this poll? It is hard to predict but we may speculate.

The South has not come out to vote in full strength. The Pashtoons live in the southern Afghanistan. Comparatively speaking the North has been more enthusiastic in going to the polling booths and voting. But we cannot be oblivious of the fact that there are more voters among Pashtuns than among Tajiks and they can tilt the balance.The Tajiks, Hazras, and the warlords like General Rashid Dostum live in the North. So does Abdullah Abdullah. Of course, Dostum has pledged his support to Karzai despite the latter being a Pashtun. One wonders if the old tribal loyalties are now crumbling like the Berlin Wall. The results alone will tell. The manual counting has begun but it may not be before early September that results are out unofficially. If Karzai succeeds in getting 50 percent or more of the total votes polled, he will be declared a winner and enjoy a second term in office. If he fails there, then there will be a second round of voting between the two candidates polling the highest number of votes and standing first and second. Thus karzai and Abdullah may stand eyeball to eyeball once again. The voters will have a second opportunity to choose the President of Afghanistan. Political pundits wish to bet on Karzai as the winner in the second round. May I suggest that we stay neutral and keep our fingers crossed for peaceful poll in October 2009 or whenever. May God be with both Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah! May God be with the people of Afghanistan in their fight against the Taliban terrorists!

UPVAN, 609, Sector 29, NOIDA – 201303, INDIA. Mob. 0091-9811173590.

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