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

Afghan Youth Debates: Single Vote Could Swing Election

By Uzra Aziz

A single ballot in Afghanistan's coming presidential poll could change the fate of the nation, students at an IWPR debate have heard.

Basir Ahmad Danishyar, a lecturer at Herat University in the west of the country, emphasised that every single eligible voter had an obligation to take part in the April 5 elections to help cement the country's fledgling democracy and build on existing successes.

Speaking at an event held by IWPR, he accepted that Afghans continued to face serious hardships following more than 30 years of conflict. But he urged the undergraduates present to take full advantage of recent hard-won gains and commit to helping shape their own future.

“The value of a single vote could change the fate of our nation and if we don’t take part in the elections, it is we who will pay the price for throwing away our democracy," Danishyar warned. "It is the national, moral and religious duty of every Afghan to vote. Not doing so risks creating far worse problems for our future."

The IWPR debate took place on March 16 at Herat University. Panellists included Ali Jan Fasihi, a representative for a number of Herat civil society organisations, and Abdul Qader Rahimi, the provincial director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

Danishyar told the event that the democratic process, so often dismissed by hard-line religious scholars as an entirely Western construct, did in fact share its roots with Islamic theology.

He referred to the principle of “bayat”, the allegiance that Muslims have to elected leaders.

"God has instructed us to bestow our trust in those who are honest and loyal, so we should give our votes to those who are knowledgeable, patriotic and pious," he told the students. "We have a huge duty towards our people and our country."

Fasihi agreed with Danishyar that political participation was both a right and a duty.

"Every eligible citizen should use their right to vote for the best candidate,” he said. "We are under an obligation to use our vote."

Barat Ali Behkam, a journalism student at Herat University, asked the panellists who voters should back, given that many of the candidates standing were considered poorly qualified for government.

Danishyar replied that students should elect the best candidate available, adding that this was preferable to not voting at all.

"If we boycott the elections, we'll be responsible for potentially grave consequences," he said. "It is better to vote than to abstain.”

Rahimi said all the candidates standing in the race to succeed President Hamed Karzai deserved proper consideration.

“It's better to vote for a good candidate who we don't end up regretting we elected,” he said. “He must have all the right attributes and shouldn't play with the destiny of the people and the country,” he added.

Uzra Aziz is a student at Herat University and an IWPR trainee.

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.