Afghan Voices: Messages to the President

A survey shows that Afghans all across the country have a wide range of issues they want their president to address.

Afghan Voices: Messages to the President

A survey shows that Afghans all across the country have a wide range of issues they want their president to address.

Even before next month’s presidential election, Afghans eagerly seized an opportunity to deliver a message to Hamed Karzai, the incumbent and likely winner.

They offered up more problems than praise.

"I am hungry, and sick too,” said a 33-year-old woman from Kandahar in the south. “My husband is old and weak and can't work very hard. Give him money or work."

"I was a brigadier [military officer] and now I am a cobbler. Isn't it embarrassing for the government that an experienced brigadier should now be cobbler?" said a 35-year-old man in the capital Kabul.

In a survey of more than 3,000 people nationwide in mid-August, a team of journalists led by IWPR trainers asked ordinary people about their problems and their reasons for voting. They also asked, “If you could speak to the president face to face, what would you say?”

The answers people gave were often filled with anger and despair.

“I will hold his collar and tell him, ‘Give me a job or I won’t let go!’" said a 61-year-old man from Jowzjan province, in northern Afghanistan.

In Kabul, a 45-year-old refugee woman from Rahman Mina district said, "You wanted us to come back from Pakistan, but here there are no jobs or shelter for us. I pray that you become the same [jobless and homeless]."

Some people wouldn’t even take an opportunity if they had one to see their president. A 48-year-old man from Jowzjan said, "I don’t want to meet him because he is a liar."

But others said they would welcome the chance.

In Jowzjan, a 30-year-old man said, "We are happy with you and we’ll give you our votes because you have stopped the fighting in the country."

A 70-year-old male citizen of Karte Naw district of Kabul said, "Long live Karzai! Because you are working for peace in the country."

While these messages were meant for Karzai, others were directed to whoever the future elected president is. Homeless, hungry and jobless, people poured out their personal problems and begged the president for a solution.

"When will the hungry stomachs of our children be filled with bread?" asked a 75-year-old man in the Barakai district of Logar province, south of Kabul. “Make factories and provide jobs for the poor,” implored a 65-year-old man in Khost, in the far south of Afghanistan.

Women in particular begged for housing - even a simple mud home would make them happy. "I want only one plot of land, and then ‘Long live [the president]!’" said a 35-year-old woman in Kabul.

Another woman, 50, from Khost, had a very specific request, “We don’t have barns for our cows.” A young man named Zikrullah in Archi district of the northern Kunduz province told the president, “I want a car” - which he sees it as his only chance of working and making a living.

Some wanted to put social concerns to the president.

"Many young people have grown old [without marrying] because they can't afford to pay the bride price," said a 28-year-old man from the central Maidan Wardak province, speaking of the custom of a man paying a woman’s family for the right to marry her.

And a 22-year-old woman from Nangarhar who is a high school graduate said, "Stop family elders from betrothing their children by force." She complained that she personally had been forced to get engaged, adding, "I don’t know how my life will be."

In a separate question, the survey asked people to rank their concerns. Security was named as the number one problem by nearly 30 per cent of respondents. Many people raised this issue in their statement addressed to the president, too.

"Create security all around Afghanistan and finish terrorism," said a 36-year-old labourer from Jowzjan. A 40-year-old man in Nuristan in the east of the country said he would tell the president, "Don’t plunder the forests and mines."

A 26-year-old doctor from Logar province said, "Free us from the evil of these armed forces [local commanders]."

Another 26-year-old, from the Nurgram district of Nuristan, said he would like to see peacekeepers with the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, expanded into additional regions of the country.

Those old enough to remember when Daoud Khan served as president from 1973 until his assassination in 1978 offered conflicting advice to the next president. One 65-year-old man from Herat said the president should model himself after Daoud Khan, while an 87-year-old man warned, “Don’t rule the country as Daud Khan did."

Some made a plea for national unity. "Look upon each person as an Afghan, not an Uzbek or a Tajik," said a 32-year-old man in Bamian, central Afghanistan.

Finally, a 35-year-old woman from Bamian warned whoever becomes president, "Don’t misuse the trust people have given you."

Farida Nekzad is a reporter and trainer for IWPR in Kabul. This article is the first in a series of reports drawn from a nationwide IWPR survey ahead of the election.

Pakistan, Afghanistan
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