What 'Democracy' Looks Like
"We are just poor people. We don't know about elections," says Gholm Nabi, an old man who lives in a crumbling Tajik slum called Daha Afghananan on the slopes of Kabul's TV Mountain. Above him the gray sky hovers over the eponymous mountain's bombed out TV tower and an old rotating restaurant lounge that is now a military base of the UN's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
"Someone comes and beats a drum and we just dance. We don't even know why," says Nabi. He works as a servant in a local mosque and says he is a religious man who trusts Allah and the holy Koran. He is registered to vote but does not know whom to vote for. "I will see the pictures on the ballot and Allah will guide me and hopefully I will vote for the one who will serve the people." When asked about the mounting evidence of possible vote fraud, Nabi just shrugs.
Further up TV Mountain, Latif Ahmad is looking for work. He is an itinerant laborer from Pakman, a rural town outside of Kabul. "Qanooni or Karzai, it doesn't matter. We are poor people and we will follow and respect our leaders," says Ahmad, referring to the second-place candidate Yunus Qanooni, who is Tajik, and to Pashtun front-runner Karzai. Ahmad has not registered to vote but says he might. Right now he needs to find a few days of work in Kabul before heading home.
A young middle-class journalist across town expresses a darker pessimism. "It's not like my vote will be counted, so why should I register?" he asks. "It is all prearranged for Karzai and America." Asadullah, a shopkeeper in the central city who recently returned from years in exile, is equally dismissive: "I have no voter card because there is no one to vote for. There are two types of candidates, mujahedeen whom we don't trust and foreigners whom we don't know. As a Muslim it would be shameful to vote in an election that is no good or fixed."
Later a Tajik cabbie and mujahedeen vet condemn the current president: "Karzai, Pashtun. Pashtun, terrorist, Taliban," he says in broken English. He fought with the famous mujahedeen commander Ahmed Shah Massoud and likes his fellow Tajik, Qanooni.
In a hamlet outside Shekhabad village in Wardak province, a few hours southwest of Kabul, migrant laborers recently returned from Iran and local poppy farmers express hope for a peaceful and prosperous future. Most say they are registered to vote but few show any interest in the outcome of the elections. Some in this Pashtun region say they will vote for Karzai simply because he was already in power; others said they might vote for whomever their old military commander, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf supports. Sayyaf's party, Ittehad-e-Islami, is not running a candidate but has traditionally allied with the Tajik dominated Jamaat-e-Islami.
At night in the Persian-carpet-lined visiting room of a large kala, a fortified family compound made of mud bricks, a dozen male cousins and brothers play cards and gamble deep into the night. The women of the family are all hidden away across a courtyard in other rooms on the ground floor. The election is not a natural topic of conversation, though the economy, local violence and the situations in Palestine and Iraq are.
Our host, Naim, was not a mujahedeen fighter during the anti-Soviet jihad. He complains bitterly about the "crimes" of the mujahedeen warlords. "Why doesn't the United States bring them to justice? People will condemn these commanders."
But when asked about the rumors that Karzai and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad are cutting deals with these same men, he seems to contradict himself: "If the warlords are not given Cabinet seats or ministries they will go back to war. They have to be part of the government."
One of his cousins sums up the sentiments of the others: "It really doesn't matter who is president. All we want is peace and a better life. If the election is not fair, that's just the way it is. As long as there is peace. People here are too tired and afraid to care about elections."