the departure of the Taliban regime in late 2001, experts on Afghanistan have been
saying every year has been a critical year for the country. Often for very good
reasons. But the significance of 2014 can hardly be exaggerated. Partly it’s because
this year will see the end of international assistance in key areas. But mainly
because it will bear witness to what will hopefully be the first ever peaceful
democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.
war-weary people are, therefore, caught between fear and hope – feelings which
have been clear to see in a special series of our TV and radio debate show Open
Jirga dedicated to the elections.
seven shows brought people from all 34 provinces of Afghanistan face to face
with politicians, election commissioners and presidential candidates to debate
Open Jirga team ensured that the studio audience included people who
have little opportunity to get their voices heard – such as 70-year-old Imamuddin, right, who lives in a
remote part of the province of Kunduz.
feedback after the show, one audience member told us, "It was a completely new
way of approaching officials. We have never experienced such a chance to see and
meet presidential candidates and tell them our problems in the provinces."
eight per cent of those who responded to our questions after taking part also
said they were positive that the show would make leaders more accountable to
one of the biggest issues brought up by the audience was security. In one episode, Sharifa Ahmadzai from
Helmand, for instance, asked: "There are a lot of insecure areas in our
provinces. Would this insecurity not lead to fraud [in the elections]?"
Sarwar from Ghor asked about plans to "secure the roads between provincial
centres and the surrounding districts" which, he said, "have been insecure for
the last 10, 11 years".
response, presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai said his first step would
be to ask the armed forces to report every eight hours on the security
situation to the President, and create a "reward and punishment" mechanism for
people responsible for specific roads who would take "assertive action against criminality".
Abdullah responded that "attracting public cooperation
was the main issue" and that he would strengthen the intelligence and judicial
systems and police's ability to respond rapidly to ensure road security.
about electoral fraud was articulated by the audience in every programme.
instance, one audience member from the central highlands said "in many areas
people stop women, in the name of tradition, from going to polling stations and
they themselves use their cards to vote for their preferred candidates".
major issues were the track record of candidates or their running mates –
particularly when it came to their role in the 1990s civil war and human rights
violations – and the future role of Sharia law in the country.
role in the elections was also put under the spotlight in one special show,
which saw a lively debate about the absence of a female presidential candidate
and what stops women voting, including the remoteness of polling stations as
well as religious and cultural barriers. (For more on this show, read a blog
from the show's floor manager Tahmina Kargar.)
is, no doubt, a sense of weariness about these elections among the Afghan
public. But what also became clear from these shows is the public’s passion -
and their understanding of what’s at stake.
Two speakers in
particular stand in my mind.
first was a young woman called Mariam from Sar-e Pul province, who responded with fury
when presidential contender Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai commented that he thought
voting had before only led to international forces in Afghanistan, a presence
he vehemently opposed.
"You encourage me not to vote. Why?" Mariam replied
angrily, before defending the hard-won progress in Afghanistan over the last
the last 12 years I have studied and graduated from the university. I am happy
with Karzai because he brought peace. I have not forgotten 12 years ago when
the Taliban were [in power]. Despite wearing the full veil, we used to get
whipped in the head. [Please] remember those years... and keep your voting card
as safe as your degree [document]."
Her words were met by thunderous applause
from the studio audience.
second memorable speaker was another eloquent, impassioned woman, Marzia from
"I say this as an Afghan and as a mother. We have endured a
lot of pain," she said. "We should encourage our people to vote so we can
[elect] one person, and then put pressure on them [to deliver]. And if they can’t
do [the job] or fails to fulfil his promises, we can then all rise!"