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

Polls Peaceful in Wardak

Voters in the central Afghan province now await the results of the presidential ballot.
By Amanullah Nasrat

On October 9, Shirin Jan walked for ten minutes in a chill wind to reach the polling station, passing the mud-baked school wall which five months ago bore the "night letter" threatening anyone who supported the election with death.

The 51-year-old grandfather from the central province of Wardak was keen to vote for his country's president. But given the history of sporadic violence and intimidation in his home district of Chak, he was afraid.

"Before election day I was worried and thought there would be a massive explosion here, but on election day, security was very tight and men and women voted [without problems],” he said.

He was not the only one to be anxious. The director of the anti-crime unit of the Chak district police, Nurul Haq, said, "Before polling day, I thought we were going to have violence. But those who I’d thought would threaten security during the election were ahead of the rest in the queues to vote."

In Wardak, as in the rest of the country, a high percentage of voters defied threats and turned out in their droves to vote for the president. Now they await the final count.

The weather on election day was especially cold in the northwest part of the province. Some voters had to travel for four hours to reach the polls. Some made their way on donkeys.

Wardak lies geographically at the heart of Afghanistan. It is south of Kabul and borders the provinces of Parwan, Bamian, Ghazni and Logar.

It consists of seven districts: five predominantly Pashtun and two Hazara. Shirin Jin lives in one of the Pashtun areas.

As of October 26, results from Wardak broadly reflected the province’s ethnic makeup, with the Pashtun interim president Hamed Karzai leading with 61 per cent of the vote, followed by Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, the Hazara presidential candidate, with 32 per cent, and the Tajik Mohammad Younis Qanuni getting just three per cent although nationally he is in second place.

While the Hazara areas of Behsud-1 and -2 have been calm for over a year, security has generally been worsening in the Pashtun districts of Wardak. The province was a traditional power base of the Taleban and some elements remain active there.

Earlier this year, IWPR reported the circulation of threatening leaflets or “night letters” in Wardak, pledging death to those who supported the election. IWPR also reported on some case of intimidation of those who registered, and a grenade attack on a female registration worker.

In September, security officials found a large cache of weapons, rockets and landmines in the provincial capital Maidan Shahr.

Police and local authorities worked to make election day peaceful. In Chak, the day turned into a celebration. The opening of the polls at seven in the morning was marked by the sound of traditional drums, said Mohammed Ismail Kafil, the administrator of Chak district.

Initially, people were worried and scared and there were only a few voters. But later, when people realised that security was tight, everyone came out to vote, said Shirin Jan.

"Every polling centre was controlled by five or six policemen and in addition there were some [unarmed] local people assigned by the tribal leaders to help the police," said Kafil.

He said the district had 30 policemen and another 137 people sent by the tribal leaders to assist, adding that, "We had 12 others [policemen] in a rapid-reaction force, who were very helpful in ensuring security."

Hamdullah, 49, another resident of Chak said, "The massive participation of all residents of the district in electing their president is a result of the strong security.

"The majority of people in our district voted for Karzai, because he is a national and international figure, and no one knows the other candidates."

Shir Mohammed, 50, said he believed the election had been free and fair. "In our area, no one was threatened and no one was told to vote for a specific candidate," he said.

Women too, enjoyed the opportunity to vote. Forty-two per cent of voters in the province were female.

Mahmuda Khaksar, headmistress of the Shuhada-ye-Ab Paran girls’ school in Pata village, Chak, said security was very good during the election and everyone who had registered actually went to vote.

She showed her finger and said that the dye was still there, a sign that in this area at least, the indelible ink used on voting day worked.

Snow and rain fell in Behsud, but Mohammad Ali, 21, a resident of Dahan-e-Siasang village said, "I am extremely delighted [to be voting], since it is first time that people in Afghanistan have been able to choose their own leader."

Mohammad Taqi complained about the cold, but said, "because it was a historic, landmark day for the Afghan nation, I went to the polling station to play my part in deciding the future of the country”.

In Behsud-1 district, Mohammad Azim Baligh, head of the administration department, said local people even made transportation available for voters.

"Residents of this district provided nine Russian Kamaz trucks and 11 Japanese buses to take people to the polling centres,” he said.

Mohammad Amin, 35, who has a drug store in the village of Siasang, said, "election day was a proud day in the history of Afghanistan.

"I felt as if it was [the religious festival] Eid and went to the polling station with such thoughts."

Political analyst Habibullah Rafi, originally from Maidan Shahr and now based in Kabul, said the large voter turnout indicated that people were ready to face down the rule of the gun and move beyond the ties of tribe, location and language and the strictures of their religious environment.

"The people wanted to shape their destiny with their own hands," he said.

Abdul Baseer Sayed, Amanullah Nasrat and Suhaila Muhsini are IWPR staff reporters in Kabul.