Video: Violence in Afghan campaign

By Keith Miller Senior foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/6/2004 7:37:12 PM ET 2004-10-06T23:37:12

The front runner in Afghanistan's election, interim president Hamid Karzi, held a rally Wednesday in a stadium once used by the Taliban to execute opponents. He urged Afghans to vote using ballots, not bullets, to determine their future.

But in an already historic election, the candidate making history is Massouda Jalal, a 41-year-old mother of three — the first woman to run for president of Afghanistan.

Only men attended her campaign rally in a village outside Kabul. Some have never seen anything like this. There were a lot of people there.

“They want me. They say, ‘You are our sister,'” says Jalal.

This, says Massouda, is an opportunity to change perceptions of women.

“A woman with empty hands, with no financial power, no military power, no government power can win the election — with pure support of people of Afghanistan,” she says.

Women certainly have the vote. Some four million women are registered, but many of them will be told who to vote for.

“The community elders will get together and decide how the vote is going to go, and they will instruct people to vote accordingly. That is the culture,” says Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit.

The danger comes from warlords and the Taliban.

Up to 1,000 people — aid workers, elections officials and soldiers — have been killed in the run up to the election. American forces have been beefed up in preparation for voting day. Additional air power and 700 paratroopers joined the 18,000 troops already on the ground.

Massouda Jalal won't accept a bodyguard, even though she's on the Taliban's hit list.

“She's been victimized by the Tailban and al-Qaida with their philosophy, and her candidacy tells them you were wrong,” says Nassrin Gross of the Center for Policy Research.

Jalal won't win the presidency, but she may achieve a victory in helping change attitudes — a process that can be more complex and dangerous than practicing democracy.

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