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Afghans Speak Out on US Vote

Many say they support President Bush because he led to the ouster of the Taleban, but other hope John Kerry might bring about a review of US policies.
By Wahidullah Amani

While Afghans may not have a vote in the United States presidential election on November 2, most feel that they and their nation have a stake in its outcome.


When asked whether they supported President Bush or his Democratic rival John Kerry, most said they favoured the incumbent – perhaps not surprising given Bush’s association with the ousting of the Taleban regime.


But many also criticised current US policy towards their country and called for increased military and financial assistance in the future, no matter who is elected.


"Whoever becomes the next American president must continue financial aid, and shouldn't withdraw American forces from Afghanistan," said Mohammad Nazir Arya, 44, who owns the Arya Stationary House in the centre of Kabul.


Asadullah, 23, a Kabul shopkeeper, was worried that if Kerry were elected, he might bring troops home from Afghanistan or cut assistance. Asadullah said be believed Bush was better versed in the issues that affect Afghanistan.


"If George Bush wins the election, it will be Afghanistan's gain," he said.


But, he added, "Whether George Bush or John Kerry wins, American must strengthen its presence, otherwise there will be civil war in Afghanistan.


Daud, 40, of Kabul, says that Bush already has a track record on Afghanistan and it would be for the benefit of Afghanistan if he remains in office.


"It takes some time for a new president to set his new policy, and then he has to implement it," he said. "If our country is used as a laboratory for a new policy, we will pay the price."


"The United States must boost aid to Afghanistan and play a direct role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan - even if it does not give the cash directly to the government of Afghanistan," said Arya.


However, he added, "When peace is secured and the central government extends its control all over Afghanistan, then American forces should be expelled."


Not everyone agreed that a switch of administration would bring about a change in US policies towards Afghanistan.


Abdul Wakil Nayebi, 28, of Baghlan province, said, "In my opinion, US policy will not changed by the upcoming election. Politics and policies toward other countries will remain unchanged."


Nayebi discounted Kerry’s promise to review his country’s policy towards Afghanistan. "I think it’s just a slogan," he said.


Several people interviewed by IWPR supported Kerry.


Abdul Hasib Noori, 30, of Kabul, said a Kerry win would bring positive change in Afghanistan.


"Bush is dictatorial in his approach. He should have opted for a softer approach in Afghanistan," he said. "I oppose Bush's policy toward Afghanistan, and John Kerry may bring some changes in US policy."


Gauhar, 34, a student at Kabul University, said she supported Kerry because he has said that resolving Afghanistan's problems and pursuing al-Qaeda should have been the priority before US attention was directed toward Iraq.


"Instead of rolling up the al-Qaeda carpet from Afghanistan, Bush turned his attention toward Iraq," she said.


Gauhar added that she was not in favour of American forces staying in Afghanistan, but said that, at the moment, there was no other alternative for stability.


"When the government of Afghanistan stands on its own feet, then American forces must leave Afghanistan," she said.


Razia, 26, another student from Kabul University, said she supported Kerry because he did not seem a warlike person.


"I support John Kerry, because Bush is the one who wants to bring other countries under his domination," she said.


Tahira, 36, a student at Kabul University, was more directly critical of Bush's policies in Afghanistan.


"Bush used the pretext of al-Qaeda and terrorism to bomb Afghanistan, and they killed lots of people in some parts of Afghanistan," she said. "Instead of useless bombing, maybe John Kerry will focus on reconstruction which is beneficial for Afghanistan."


Stanekzai, a Kabul University instructor, was critical of US support for powerful Northern Alliance commanders who helped drive the Taleban from power.


"The United States primarily helped the warlords - who were nonentities during the Taliban era - to gain prominence, and even promoted them to key positions in the government," he said.


Stanekzai said it was time for US policy toward Afghanistan to undergo a much-needed review.


"Regardless of who becomes the new president, US tactics, programmes and policies on Afghanistan in the past three years must be reviewed, and mistakes carried out by the Americans must be pointed out and not be repeated in the future," he said. "If Bush wins the election, he will have to review his policies."


Khalid Azam, 25, of Kabul, said the US ignores Afghanistan at its own peril.


"At the moment the current situation in Afghanistan is totally distorted by American politics," said Azam. "Even if Kerry wins the election, he will have to continue Bush's policy. If he doesn't, Afghanistan will once again become a major threat to the United States."


Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


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