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by Felix kuehn

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Kandahar in revolt: The Qur’ān demos in the light of history

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My Guest Blog at AAN see also here

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The sort of violent demonstrations which took place in Kandahar in the first week of April against the burning of a Qur’an in the United States, with large gatherings of people and clashes with Afghan security forces, have not been seen since the late 1950s and early 1980s. Usually, says our guest blogger, the freelance writer, Felix Kuehn who lives in the city,* protests are engineered by one or other strongman who sends out his people to pay for day labourers to join the procession; the protests last a few hours at most and normally pass quietly. He and the younger generation of Kandaharis have seen nothing like this before.

In 1959, Louis Dupree’s description of the violent protests that broke out in Kandahar over government tax reforms are reminiscent of what took place here forty years later:

‘The crowd moved away from the mosque road. Bast [sanctuary]**would not be declared this year. Quickly, several ultra-conservative religious leaders and landlords whipped up the pay-i-luch (‘barefoot boys’; similar groups in Kabul are called sher bacha, ‘lion boys’) of the Qandahari bazaar, who have a reputation for troublemaking. What began as a traditional refusal to pay taxes rapidly grew into a anti-government riot. Obvious manifestations of modernisation were attacked, including the local cinema. The rioters later regretted this, for they did enjoy those Indian movies. They also damaged a girls’ school, several government buildings, and entered the women’s public bath (hamam).’***

It was not until 1980, that Kandahar saw similarly violent demonstrations – this time against the ‘Soviet occupation’ and the ‘puppet’ government in Kabul. ‘Soviets Wary As Protest Grows in Key Afghan City’ was how one reporter described protests where gunshot was heard across the city.**** A few months later, in May 1980, 60 protesters were killed in one demonstration. Last week, General Petraeus, seemed to echo the worries of his Soviet predecessors, when he said, ‘every security-force leader’s worst nightmare is being confronted by essentially a mob, especially [a mob] that can be influenced by individuals that want to incite violence, who want to try to hijack passions, in this case, perhaps understandable passions.’

The local government blamed the protests on ‘enemies of the people and country’ whom they said had placed themselves among the demonstrators for the outbreak of violence. There has been much speculation as to the role of the Taleban in the protests — both in Kandahar and elsewhere. The Taleban website ran articles on the demonstration in Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar and later released an op-ed. There have also been numerous rumours about inciting sermons being given at the city’s mosques and insurgents taking part in the demonstrations, yet the events that unfolded in Kandahar seem to be more than a just a demonstration hijacked by insurgents. They were a representation of a host of issues that have fostered the discontent of the population in the south. The violence cannot just be written off by blaming the Taleban. Details of how the protests developed show that Petraeus is right to be worried.

On the morning of Saturday 2 April, people gathered in the Charsuq area, the first shots were fired (by unknown people) a few minutes after 9am and then the situation deteriorated rapidly. As the demonstrators moved through the city, shops and markets were destroyed and tires set on fire. Four local journalists,**** were severely beaten and their equipment destroyed. The Kandahar Press Club said the demonstrators were carrying sticks and stones and that some had weapons. According to one source, they denounced journalists as infidels and said Americans that should be killed.

They also broke into Zarghuna Ana High School for girls, where they set a school bus on fire and destroyed desks. ‘In the city all the streets seem to have become blackened with the fire,’ said one friend on Saturday evening. ‘Lots of shops are destroyed.’ Demonstrators had ripped out doors and destroyed storefronts. The movie-market, a multi-storey complex that houses dozens of DVD shops, had been set on fire. ‘Yes, they set the shops on fire and were burning things outside,’ one witness told me. ‘I saw one boy who was carrying out a new DVD player and wanted to throw it onto the fire, but another snatched it out of his hand and ran away with it.’ Dozens of Qur’ans were burned in the fires. ‘In America one crazy guy burns a Qur’an and here the demonstrators burn a hundred,’ said one friend. ‘This is not the Islamic way. Many of these demonstrators are young, they don’t even know why they are demonstrating.’

Kandahar City has a diverse population that has swollen significantly in the past decade, people fleeing from the military campaigns in the district come to the city, and refugees return from abroad. There are hundreds of mosques and mullas in the city; even though they don’t necessarily form part of the insurgency, many can easily be compared to Dupree’s ‘ultra-conservative religious leaders’ who hold views comparable to those of the leadership of the Taleban insurgency. Throughout Afghanistan’s history, there has been an underlying current of conflict between the mostly-rural mullas and the central state.

Much of Kandahar is conservative — and ‘very emotional,’ as some friends have put it. Were there insurgents at the demonstration? Without a doubt, yes. Taleban ‘members’ or affiliates are known to be in the city; they have been present in increasing numbers since at least a year by now. A number of people have observed that Taleban have been coming more to the city following the increased military operations in the surrounding districts. A substantial number has always been here, as well as tacit and passive supporters who might not play an active role but hold similar views to the insurgents. Demonstrators were reported to have been shouting slogans in support of the Islamic Emirate and Mulla Mohammad Omar and carrying white flags ( ‘Taleban flags’) and other symbols that depict references to the insurgency.

Yet, the depiction of the demonstrations in Kandahar as being orchestrated by the Taleban is simplistic and ignores a much broader underlying sentiment amongst the population concerning the American and foreign forces: a lack of trust. Many Kandaharis believe the United States’ ultimate goal is not to defeat the Taleban but rather has a hidden agenda embedded in wide-ranging conspiracy theories concerned with Central Asia, oil, Pakistan, China, Iran, and at times Islam itself. This perception has grown considerably in the past two years, and is echoed from Provincial council members to the day labourers.

Behind the swift move to blame the Taleban lies the artificial delineation of the Taleban and the population. Lines in Kandahar are naturally blurred. Religious students and mullas, while not taking actively part in the insurgency or even not lending tacit support, nevertheless hold conservative views. You do not have to be a Taleb in order to oppose the local and central government, the foreign forces and Afghan security forces in Kandahar.

Various things helped create the conditions for these demonstrations: the burning of the Qur’an itself, the recently published pictures of the so-called kill-team that shows smiling American soldiers holding up the head of a dead Afghan civilian, the immense pressure that the local population finds itself under, as well as the actions of the foreign forces and the Afghan government. Kandahar’s demonstrations potentially have far-reaching implications. They should be seen as indicators that are far more genuinely representative of ‘public opinion’ than any of the recent polls which claim to represent what people in the south are thinking.

* Felix Kuehn is a writer/researcher based in Kandahar city, he is the co-editor of Mulla Abdul Salam Zaeef’’s autobiography My Life with Taleban, and co-author of the forthcoming book An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taleban/al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan 1970-2010. He blogs less than occasionally on www.felixkuehn.com.

** Bast is a custom which still permits a Muslim to remain in a holy place – or other area designated bast – unmolested by government authority.

*** Louis Dupree, Afghanistan. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980), 536-7 6; Herald Tribune Wire Service, ‘Soviets Wary As Protest Grows in Key Afghan City,’ Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 8, 1980

**** Sami Zuberi, ‘60 killed in Afghan protests,’ Anchorage Daily News, May 3, 1980

***** Bashir Ahmad Naadim and his colleague Seddiqullah from the Pajhwok network, Sami Ghairatmal of al-Jazeera and Mr Allaudin, a photojournalist affiliated with Reuters.

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April 10th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Interview in the european

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Interview in the european online magazine – in german.

Thanks to Mark T. Fliegauf who tracked me down and kept on reminding me that i had said i would do the interview which took him a good two months – that is dedication.

so here the piece

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May 19th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Meet Mister Kandahar

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There are some things you should not do in Kandahar: you should not spend too much time on the street; you should not tell people when you are going out, or where you are going, up to the moment when you are actually leaving the door; you should not go to the same place or person regularly; you should not hang around areas with a random group of people you do not know. The list goes on. Kandahar is half-way submerged in war – but it’s a new war, one that does not necessarily take place before your eyes.

In the past few years, Kandahar has changed. The battle for Kandahar is coming, if one is to believe Stanley McChrystal. I remember walking on the street with friends, getting ice cream in the summer and spending fridays at the river in Arghandab just outside the city. One thing I remember particularly well is when we went to the local gym. All of these things might kill you today.

A year and a half ago, I would go out at night, huddle up with two other people on a motorcycle or walk through the back alleys to one of Kandahar’s gyms. When I first told a friend of mine living outside Afghanistan about my evening entertainment he didn’t believe me: “You’re joking, right? They have gyms down there?” He laughed.

Yes they do, dozens of them, crammed down in basements and backrooms all over town. You can find guys pumping iron on gym equipment that can compete with most standard gyms in Western Europe and America — minus the electricity from time to time.

For people who haven’t spent time in southern Afghanistan, this might seem strange, but gyms make perfect sense, as do hair products and perfume.

As with other things in Afghanistan, a paradox lies at the bottom of this: there seems to be no middle way in Kandahar. You want to be young or you want to be old, but no one wants to age. Many of my Afghan friends colour their hair to get rid of the grey and white streaks, but some consciously bring them to the front for people to see. Many complain about their weight, the belly that has been growing for the past few years, and sometimes they start doing something about it.

The gyms are packed in the early evenings, mostly with young men. In close to every gym I have been to, you could buy nutritional supplements, muscle busters and Creatine buckets — not that different from gyms in the west, you might say. But what you don’t find back in the west are a variety of anabolic steroid products on the same shelf.

“You cannot make your body look like this without the pills, the powder and shots,” one of the young men told me. A friend said that some of the guys spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on steroids each month.

One man that everyone in Kandahar’s gym world knows is Mohammadullah Gul Lalai: Mr Kandahar in 2003. He is a big guy, even though he is currently not training. “Sometimes you need to rest. I’ll start training again in a month,” says Gul Lalai, sitting on a bench in one of his gyms on the third floor, just a few hundred meters away from Kandahar’s Chawk-e Madat.

He says he is 33 years old and that he started to train when he was twenty. “First I played football, but then one of my cousins convinced me to try bodybuilding and I did.” Back then there were two gyms in Kandahar with little equipment and no trainers.

“Arnold told me how to do it. I used his videos and magazines.” Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the governor of California, ex-Terminator star and former Mr Universe, smiles from the wall of every gym in Kandahar. The posters are all from the 1970s and 80s, showing him at his peak — just before he dropped out and filmed Conan the Barbarian, the film that made him a star and set the stage for his career. Arnold Schwarzenegger pops up time and time again in conversations in the gym, along with many other names I do not know.

Gul Lalai got the equipment for his first gym in Pakistan, rented a small room in Kandahar and slowly, day by day more and more people joined. Currently Kandahar has 21 gyms all across the city. The first championships were internal to the clubs. “Later, under Taliban rule, there were many problems,” Gul Lalai says. “Many things were not allowed: you could not show the legs, the body for competitions. We had to wear long clothes. So we trained in Kandahar and went to competitions in Pakistan.”

Otherwise, the Taliban had no problems with the gyms. “The Taliban were strong. Many came to my gym to train,” Gul Lalai said.

Today, Gul Lalai stays out of politics even though he is the the director for the department of sport in Kandahar and the head of the Olympic Committee.

“We need to give the young people something to do. Sport can help improve the situation,” he says.

He won his first title in 2000 and became Mr Kandahar in 2002 in the 80-kilo weight class from among 13 clubs. In 2003 he went to Iran and won a competition in the 90-kilo class. In 2005 he became Mr Afghanistan in the 90-kilo class and was selected for Mr Asia; he came in third place.

There seems to be no good reason for Gul Lalai to stay in Kandahar. With the violence, the assassinations and the general situation deteriorating everyday, why hasn’t he left? Gul Lalai laughs. “We know these things, no problem.”

I haven’t been to the gym for months. Instead, I bought a bench, some free weights and a running machine. The way the future seems set, with NATO preparing for “The Battle for Kandahar”, it might not have been such a sound investment.

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May 2nd, 2010 at 7:30 am

People are leaving

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The UN has closed shop today and apparently Kandahar airport will also close for a few days. Having only been back here for 3 days it is still hard to get a feeling for the city. There are more policemen on the street now, more checkpoints then a few months ago. A lot of our friends have left – some sold all their land, their houses and left Afghanistan altogether other just migrated to Kabul.

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Bomb site – Kandahar City, 27/04/2010

Things are changing – more big attacks in the city, an ever growing number of people disappearing and the built up of foreign troops all around sets out a bleak picture for what is to come in the next few months.

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April 27th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

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the storm is coming

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Yesterday a small storm came through the city. Today 3 suicide bombers.IMG_3448 - Version 2.jpg

Kandahar city, Afghanistan

Spend the last couple of hours downstairs after shooting started in the streets. “Guys you need to come down your walls won’t hold a bullet.” a friend of ours said. “The soldiers they shoot in the air to scare those guys off. One bullet is enough.”

When the gun fire died down a little we went onto the roof to take a look. A few hundred meters across we could see soldier running on rooftops. “These are the guys who will start shooting in a minute.” and sure enough they did.

This morning NATO forces opened fire on a bus t in Zheray district killing four and wounding 18. Short interview with wounded civilian from this morning

it appears the storm is coming.

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April 12th, 2010 at 10:43 am

Cambridge talk

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‘Voices from Southern Afghanistan: Kandahar in 2010′

Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

SCR, Politics and International Studies, 17 Mill Lane, 13.00 to 14.00, Monday 8 February

As more American soldiers are deployed to southern Afghanistan as part of the recently-announced ‘Surge’, Kandahar province has come under renewed scrutiny.  Based full time in Kandahar city for the past two years, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn will introduce the history of the province initially through the life of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a high-ranking former Taliban diplomat whose autobiographical memoirs, My Life With The Taliban, are just about to be published (Hurst, London), These were edited and introduced by Alex and Felix.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban movement, and its people have dominated Afghanistan’s history since the early days of the Afghan state. Van Linschoten and Kuehn will explore the current situation in Kandahar, highlighting dynamics within the Taliban and the local tribes from whom they draw their support.  They will discuss the concerns and views of local Afghans living amid the strategic confusion engendered by foreign political and military intervention in an ever-deteriorating conflict.

Felix Kuehn first travelled to Afghanistan five years ago, having spent long periods in the Middle East, including in Yemen, where he learnt Arabic.  In 2006, he founded AfghanWire.com together with Alex Strick van Linschoten and is currently working with him on several research projects, including a history of southern Afghanistan, 1970-2001. A graduate of SOAS, Felix lives in Kandahar.

Alex Strick van Linschoten founded AfghanWire.com together with Felix Kuehn in 2006.  He is currently working on a book and PhD at the War Studies Department of King’s College London on the interactions between Sufi groups and militant jihadi organisations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Somalia, as well as on a history of southern Afghanistan 1970-2001. He has reported from Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Somalia, writing for Foreign Policy, International Affairs, ABC Nyheter, The Sunday Times, The Globe and Mail and The Tablet. A SOAS graduate, he speaks Arabic, Farsi, and Pashtu and also lives in Kandahar.

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January 13th, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Kandahar Bombing

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Originally posted on Wednesday, 26 August 2009

It was perhaps twenty minutes after the call to prayer had sounded and we were breaking the fast, sitting on the floor around a plastic sheet with plates of rice and meat, when I was knocked sideways to the ground.

It takes a split second till you realize what happened; the shock-wave had blown out the windows, sending the glass flying like shrapnel into the room. It was a miracle that no one was injured.

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Our glass is double glazing, and glass kept on raining down the facade landing on our terrace, shattering into thousands of tiny pieces. There have been bomb blasts before that shook the ground, but nothing like this. I heard gunfire on the streets for several minutes, and I moved to the back rooms of the apartment with my friends. No pretty pictures this time, but I doubt I could have held the camera steady those first few minutes anyway.

Soon after the gunshots stopped, we walked out onto the terrace, glass crunching under our sandals and watched as police cars and ambulances rushed past towards the blast side. The air was filled with dust and a few blocks down I could the flashing lights and cars gathering. Quite soon after, a fire burst out, with flames and black smoke billowing into the sky – firefighters passed by.
The blast site was near to Sharjah Bakery, a shop I visit most days for soda and sweets. Just across the street is a wedding salon, and the NDS/intelligence services office is close by along with a private security company and a construction company. A friend called and said it might have been a bomb factory that blew up. Some 40 minutes later reports came in that it was a car bomb. Casualties kept arriving at Mirwais hospital for hours after the explosion. People were being dug out of the collapsed building. This morning the toll had risen to 43 dead and 65 injured.

My desk is littered with pieces of plaster that have fallen off from the ceiling and the window frames sit next to the wall.
30 minutes after the blast a convoy of foreign troops drove by, the unmistakable sound of their heavy vehicles roaring through the streets, followed by more ambulances.

Smoke kept on rising into the sky hours later, even though the firefighters seemed to have managed to put out the fires. Helicopters were flying overhead through the night sky.

Sitting in the now windowless living room last night talking with my Afghan friends, one turns to me and says: “There are those Afghans who migrated to the west who say they miss Afghanistan!” He bursts out into laughter. “This is what they are missing!” Another shakes his head: “Fuck Kandahar. Fuck Afghanistan.”

Around 11:00pm people were being evacuated from the Continental guesthouse. The police chief was talking about another 4 possible suicide bombers who were still at large in the city and heated discussion broke out in my apartment as to whether or not we should stay or move to another building further away from the Continental guesthouse and the main roads.
In the end we stayed. The idea that a truck bomb would drive into our building and explode seemed unrealistic at the time.
Now the next morning, the air is filled with the sound of people cleaning up broken glass on the street. The shopkeepers just opposite our building have all lost their glass windowfronts. I can see the blast sight; some buildings are missing, and the ones adjacent to the center of the explosion seem derelict, without windows or frames, just the empty carcasses left standing.
The area around the Shah Jahan Restaurant is a popular area, with many people spending their evenings on the little green grass strip in the middle of the road. Half an hour ago I drove to the blast site, and the destruction leaves little doubt that this has been Kandahar’s biggest bomb so far: entire buildings were annihilated and squares of mud huts flattened.

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Sharjah Bakery is gone, the construction company reduced to a pile of bricks across the street from it. The restaurant itself collapsed, burying everyone inside underneath it.

Another friend called in and said he believed that the district chief of Khakrez was at the restaurant along with a number of government officials, but nothing is confirmed yet.

Emotions were running high yesterday, and security forces in town were quick to pull the trigger. Standing outside on the terrace waiting to being put through to CBC Radio for an interview, someone started firing his AK47, and a bullet whizzed past me, hitting the door and reaching as far as our living room.

A moment later CBC was on the phone:
“Tell us what is happening right now.”
“I’ve just been shot at…”

I did the interview anyway, even though I guess I must have been a little freaked out at the time, given the amount of swearwords I used.

In the end, though, no one is surprised. This is not a turning point or the start of something; it’s what has been happening all along for the past few years in Kandahar. Violence has been on the rise, and there is no security for the people of southern Afghanistan.

re-posted on the AfPak Channel

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January 8th, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Elections 2009 in Kandahar

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Election Day: A divine comedy
Originally posted on Tuesday, 25 August 2009

It’s the middle of summer down here in Kandahar, with temperatures peeking around 50 degree Celsius by noon. In the run up to Afghanistan’s second presidential and provincial council elections foreign troops stepped up their efforts, launching multiple operations to prepare the ground for voters.

British casualties passed the 200 mark, with friends from London writing to me asking what is happening down south. There is a growing belief that a surge and COIN is the answer, and that pouring more troops in now will allow them to withdraw sooner in the long-term. Some commentators even suggested that this could happen in the next one to two years — an unlikely scenario to say the least.

These elections are a milestone in the western ‘Afghanistan’ project. There’s a definite need for this to happen; there’s a definite need for good news. The south is in the midst of an ever accelerating downward spiral of violence and disintegration: take last year’s numbers of casualties, attacks and bombs, as well as foreign troops; double it and you are close to what Kandahar is like these days.

The city itself is in deep crisis. Just the other day a friend named multiple city districts he can not go to anymore due to security concerns. If you are known in the city, you carry a gun.

The Afghan government has sent in reinforcements to secure the city. On my flight from Kabul last week I shared the plane with some 40 ANP. New soldiers and policemen in Kandahar means scared kids with guns, which in turn translates into more gun fights and more problems. During the two nights before the election the air was filled with spurts of AK and PK gunfire, at times lasting for over an hour, maybe because the insurgents are stepping up or because the police are edgy and trigger happy.

The day before the elections Alex forced me onto twitter and posted an introduction resulting in 40+ followers, one of which send me a tweet at 7.30am saying: “@felixkuehn Wake up. It’s a big day.” Indeed it was, and by the time I was back from the first round of visits to various election polling stations I saw his message.

The stations opened at 7am, with the governor casting the first vote of the day just a couple of minutes before the elections officially started. It’s a two minute drive from where I live to the election centre at Ahmed Shah Baba High School; at least it only takes 2 minutes on election day. All the roads were deserted, the city closed. Cars needed special permits to be on the street, shops were closed and there were double the usual number of ANA and ANP-manned security checkpoints throughout the city.

I took a picture of the governor. He didn’t look happy walking to the station; he hardly ever looks happy you have to admit, but than again, who would be happy running Kandahar…

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He cast his vote at one of the 20 polling rooms amidst a battle among the who is who of Kandahari journalists. NYT’s Timur Shah, Hewaad television and Al Jazeera were swarming around him, and of course Soraya Nelson of NPR, just back from two weeks embedded in Helmand, was holding her ground, moving ninja-like through the crowd in her orange garments. When we entered the school grounds about quarter to seven, flashing our media cards from the election monitoring commission, we were greeted by a few friends, the election ‘observers’, all wearing Karzai caps and buttons.

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We stuck around at Ahmad Shah Baba for an hour or so. At no point during that time did more people come to vote other than election staff and journalists hanging around waiting for them.

The caravan of journalists then poured into their cars heading for the next polling station — which was closed, so we drove to the next one. Zahir Shahi High School is a few hundred meters down the street from the police headquarters and had 8 polling stations open. When we arrived there was a small queue of around 8-10 people outside, but inside the corridors were full, giving an impression that lots of people would show up to cast their votes here. In the end the total number that came was around 1800 (1717 votes at 3.15pm with hardly anyone around); this being Kandahar’s most central polling station, a very meager outcome.

At Zahir Shah High School, however, we met Mr. Zakaria who was there to cast his vote. “I am not afraid. I am here to vote,” or something pretty close to that were his words. After his finger was stained and his card invalidated, he took the two voting cards and walked towards the cardboard voting stations with one in each hand. 30 seconds later he appeared again a voting paper in each hand, shrugging his shoulders, and asking the room what he actually had to do with them now. Several people rushed to help and a minute later, Mr. Zakaria disappeared again. Another man went over while he was standing behind the cardboard shield but was soon asked by the staff to stand back. Mr. Zakaria dropped the ballots into the boxes and and strolled away.

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We walked around the corner to go the the women’s polling station. There were a few dozen there at the time, even though half of them were probably election staff. We went into one of the polling station rooms, and found ourselves in the middle of a drama: the ballot boxes weren’t sealed before the voting had started.

In the end, one of the ladies in the room sealed the boxes and stuffed the 14 ballots into them again, and we were sent on our way.

We spent lunch at our computers, quickly learning that the supposedly indelible ink could be removed with bleach. The news was tearing through Kandahar by 1pm. Everyone was on the phone, letting people know that you could remove the ink and vote again. Close to everyone I know down here has 2-3 voter registration cards to his name. I can not be sure how many people cast a second or even third vote, but I know it happened.

After lunch we drove out to Mirwais Mina just west of Kandahar city. Mirwais Mina sees open fighting on the street as well as IED attacks on a regular basis these days. The school we went to, however, is best known for the acid attacks against a number of schoolgirls earlier this year.

In the polling station for men we were escorted to one of the offices as soon as we entered the compound. Ustaz Abdul Halim was sitting in the middle of the room, smoking. Ustaz is the last of the Kandahari dinosaurs of the Soviet Jihad, and Mirwais Mina is his capital. He still has a base out there, and remains pretty influential to say the least. He was the security advisor to the last governor, and a few days ago I saw him on the stage of Karzai’s rally in the stadium. Ustaz seemed to be in high spirits, though, and after a brief chat we walked up the alley to the girls’ school.

At that polling center 94 women had cast their votes at 3.05pm.

With barely an hour left we drove to Shkarpur Darwaza Station, counting 274 votes, and hurried back to Ahmad Shah Baba High School where the day had started. We went to 16 out of the 20 stations at Ahmad Shah Baba, counting 1007 votes, while rockets hit a few hundred meters away from the school causing the ANP and ANA to hastily run towards the gate and number of people to move towards the back of the compound.

We stuck around, watching them seal the ballot boxes and then open them again under supervision, counting the votes. A journalist came in saying that the BBC had announced that the stations would be open for an hour longer, but people were already counting.

There are about 60 polling stations in Kandahar city and about 260 in the entire province. If I average what I saw on election day (and remember that two of those were the biggest in Kandahar province), and I use only the male polling stations, the most accessible etc. then I arrive at a participation rate of roughly 170,000 people or 17% for the whole province.

But, let’s be real: this is Kandahar. In the 2005 Wolesi Jirga elections roughly a quarter of all registered voters were female. I can’t recall the exact percentage but that number has grown in this year’s registrations, a miracle in itself down here in Afghanistan’s conservative heartland. So at least a quarter of the polling stations are for female voters, leaving 195 male voting stations. Let’s see where that leaves us – at roughly 13%.

In Kandahar we have 1.08 million registered voters. Out of those votes cast in the city we have a number of people who voted twice or maybe three times. In Spin Boldak, General Raziq took all the ballot boxes into his house, and rumour has it that the outcome for the presidential election in Boldak is 100% in favour of Karzai. People are talking about a 60% turnout by now. Based on what I saw and heard, a realistic estimate for the province is somewhere between 6-8%. As I told a friend who might be in the election complaints commission, and therefore a very busy man soon: “down here in Kandahar there was no election.”

But who are we kidding? It’s a milestone achievement. And in the end we will learn that at least 50-60% of the people voted, some 500,000 to 600,000 people. This was the second independent, free, fair and democratic elections in Afghanistan.

Karzai and Abdullah have both already declared their victory.

These elections were at best a sham, but in reality it was pure satire – no wait – actually it’s a divine comedy, and the foreigners are really just visiting the seven circles of hell.

article re-posted on Alex Strick’s Frontline Blog

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January 8th, 2010 at 4:28 pm

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