Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Voices: We Need Security

IWPR survey suggests that most people plan to vote in the upcoming presidential election and are looking to their government to help improve their standard of living.

From all over Afghanistan, ordinary people are crying out for security, water and jobs, according to a national survey done by Afghan journalists.

The survey included more than 3,000 people in 21 provinces. It was carried out independently in mid-August by 100 journalists, as part of a workshop organised by IWPR on civic journalism and the presidential election.

The goal of the survey was to hear problems identified by the public, present them to the candidates before the election, and ask for answers to help voters shape their decisions.

Journalists interviewed men and women of all ages and education levels, from villages and cities.

The survey results showed that about 82 per cent of respondents plan to vote in the elections, saying they want to exercise their right to choose a president. Another 15 per cent said they would not vote; only three per cent weren’t sure.

Security was identified as the top problem in most regions, where people live in fear of local commanders who kill, steal water and land, and extort money.

The shortage of water, economic problems, lack of health care and education were the other top problems cited by people nationwide.

When asked what they would say to the president, people begged for help with all these problems, and expressed anger and frustration at the lack of progress to date.

The pressure of these problems is prompting many to vote. When asked why they would do so, many people said simply, “For peace.”

Because security has not been established and weapons have not been collected, the people hope the election will bring solutions, said Haji Nazir Ahmad Azizi, 70, of Herat province. “And I hope that I will not die before the election is finished.”

Taj Mohammad, a resident of Bait ul-Aman district of Herat province, said, “In my 71 years of life, I haven’t seen an election. Now, at the end of my life, I want to participate in the election and choose the president.”

But some seemed confused about the meaning of the voter registration card and the election process - perhaps because of the high rate of illiteracy.

Others say they’re only participating in the election so as to collect a bribe in exchange for their vote.

“Everyone got a card and I did too,” said Asadullah, 27, of Balkh province. “I don’t know why we have taken this card, yet I have one.”

A 20-year-old man standing near the shrine of Imam Sahib in Kunduz province said he spent 200 afghanis on a taxi fare in several attempts to get a voter registration card.

“I don’t care about voting,” he said. “[But] I spent a lot of money [to obtain the card]. I swear, on the day of voting, if they don’t give me money I will not vote for anyone.”

A minority of those surveyed said they would not be participating – some by choice, but others because they lost the opportunity to register.

In Kandahar’s Arghandab district, a 38-year-old woman from Mazeri village said the election is meaningless, “We are dying from hunger, and they say we should choose a president.”

She added that the election is a fraud, saying, “Anyone America wants, he will be king.”

Citizens in several parts of Khost, Kandahar and some other provinces said they weren’t given any chance to register. Others simply missed the three-week registration period.

Nasrin, 27, from Nik village of Yakawlang district of the central Bamian province, said he missed the chance to register. “I regret that others are taking part in choosing the king but I am not,” he said.

Like many Afghans, Nasrin used the word “pacha” or “king” to refer to the elected president.

Some women said their families would not allow them to vote. A 47-year-old woman living in Kandahar said, “My family did not let me get the election card. They say it is forbidden.”

Whether they planned to vote or not, people everywhere asked for help with security problems.

“I want such security in my district so that, in winter and summer, day and night, people can live with peace and assurance,” said a 60-year-old man from Chardera district of Kunduz.

A 45-year-old woman from Khulm district of Balkh province said women suffer particularly from cruel treatment by local commanders. Speaking from under the cover of her burqa, she said that the first thing the government should do is disarm the commanders.

Like most people, she has other struggles too - especially poverty, “I lost three of my sons during the former fighting, and I have a lot of economic problems.”

At least 70 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, where many of the basic necessities of life are lacking.

In Balkh province, a 20-year-old man in the village of Qarshi Gag said, “I am not educated because I don’t have a school and teacher in the village.” He complained about the lack of security and said road conditions were so bad that, in the winter, he could not travel to the city or even from one village to another.

As he spoke, he drew from his pocket some medicine that he’d come to buy in the city. “I am sick and we don’t have a doctor or pharmacy in the village,” he said.

Kuchis and disabled people reported they suffered from numerous problems. Kuchis, the nomadic tribes who depend on herding animals, make up about 20 per cent of the population; an estimated 10 to 15 per cent of Afghans are disabled.

“We go everywhere, but no one allows us to stay,” said a disabled Kuchi, 24, near Khost city. He said he wants the president to make a new province just for Kuchis.

Seventy-three per cent of those surveyed listed security, poverty and a lack of water, healthcare or education as their biggest problem. The absence of paved roads and electricity were mentioned as the second biggest problem by many people.

Many of the problems are economic. Businesses can’t develop because of lack of security, dependable electricity, water and roads, and the uneducated workforce. People can’t make a living because they are controlled by military commanders, or are sick or uneducated. Farmers can’t water their crops and have no way to get them goods to distant markets.

The lack of water was a critical problem for many people. Without safe drinking water, people get sick and children can’t go to school. “The drought has got us into a situation where we can’t even afford a pill for a headache,” said a 35-year-old resident of Maarof district, Kandahar province.

A female teacher from Sayedal Naseri high school in Kabul said, “The flow of water in the taps is too weak, and our children must go off for several hours to get one bucket of water.”

The survey was conducted by 75 male and 25 female journalists, who were supervised by 10 trainers during a 10-day workshop run by IWPR. The journalists were from both government and independent radio stations and publications.

The workshops were conducted in Kabul, Balkh, Kunduz, Nangarhar, Khost, Kandahar, Bamian and Herat provinces and included people from the neighbouring provinces of Kunar, Laghman, Nuristan, Logar, Wardak, Parwan, Kapisa, Takhar, Baghlan, Jowzjan, Zabul, Oruzgan and Helmand, as well as other regions.

Between August 18 and August 22, each journalist surveyed at least 20 people, striving to reach a mix of ages, education level, and occupation. The journalists made special efforts to reach women, people in rural and remote areas, disabled people, refugees and Kuchis.

Altogether, about 3,000 people were surveyed. Of these, 2,501 responses were analysed so as to achieve a balance of men and women and a demographic profile as close as possible to that of the country as a whole.

The trainers and journalists went far outside the cities. One journalist rented a horse to reach a desert district in Kunduz province; another rode a motorcycle for four hours from Bamian to reach the remote area of Qargha Natu; and a third walked for two hours in Nuristan to interview people in a remote mountain area.

To interview women, the journalists went to shrines, women's clinics, bazaars and even private houses - asking permission from the men of the house and then speaking to the women through a half-open door.

Of the surveys used, about 50 per cent of respondents were women, two-thirds lived in rural areas, five per cent were Kuchis; and nine per cent were refugees.

Thirty-eight per cent of those surveyed were between the ages of 18 to 29; 26 per cent were 30 to 39; 20 per cent 40 to 49; 10 per cent were 50 to 59; and 6 percent were 60 or older.

Shah Mahmood Haroon was one of 10 IWPR trainers who conducted the election workshops.

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