IMAGE: Campaigning in Kabul
Paula Bronstein  /  Getty Images
Parliamentary candidate Ramazan Bachar Dost campaigns in Kabul on Sept. 14 ahead of Sunday's elections.
updated 9/15/2005 7:15:57 AM ET 2005-09-15T11:15:57

As a teen, Abdul Qodos fought Soviet forces in this town on the sun-baked plains northeast of Kabul. Now he’s here for an experiment in democracy, one of hundreds of elders and community leaders who came to hear candidates running in Afghanistan’s landmark legislative elections.

From across Kapisa province, they streamed into a former movie house ringed by rocky mountain slopes. Their mission: listen, ask questions, then go home to advise people how to vote Sunday in what is seen as a key step toward stability after 25 years of conflict.

“I want to see who is good. I want to hear what the candidates say,” Qodos said.

As candidates gathered on the stage Wednesday, boys in white vests moved along the aisles, pouring water for rows of men in brown felt hats, white skullcaps and turbans. Women sat in the back, the hoods of their blue burqas thrown back to expose their faces.

The meeting was organized by Kapisa Governor Satar Murad as part of government efforts to assure people the elections will be free and fair and that they can vote for whomever they choose without pressure from warlords who still wield strong influence.

“People are tired,” said Qodos, 37, who said he commanded a small group that battled the Taliban after fighting against the Soviets. “We do not want any more war.”

Tensions arise
But tensions boiled to the surface when critics of one candidate, Abdul Hadi, alleged he had led Taliban fighters and accused him of killings and other crimes.

Hadi stormed out with several followers in tow. Tense shouting matches erupted outside before he agreed to return, underlining the challenge in breaking with Afghanistan’s turbulent past and building democracy.

Human rights activists say some warlords involved in the bloodshed of the past quarter-century have slipped through a U.N.-backed review to become candidates and fear their participation in the vote could undermine its goals.

There are also concerns that the elections of a national parliament and 34 provincial assemblies may simply cement existing rifts in society, with voters casting ballots along traditional ethnic, tribal and religious lines rather than for specific policies.

“It is quite likely that communities will vote for people they know and for traditional leaders,” said Trevor Martin, head of office for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for the country’s central region.

“It’s important that a political process take place, so that candidates or parties can begin to develop political agendas that can be expressed and debated,” he told The Associated Press. “Clearly it will take some time to achieve this.”

Widespread mistrust
Martin also said recent history has made many Afghans mistrustful of politicians. That was reflected in the largely respectful but sometimes raucous exchanges between candidates and the audience on an array of key issues — women’s rights, foreign policy, a persistent Taliban insurgency and the presence of U.S. and NATO forces.

One questioner wanted to know what a parliament is — sparking a lengthy response from a professor who is seeking a seat. A white-bearded elder drew some of the loudest applause when he told another candidate that if elected, he must work for the people, provide health care and build schools, and not just “eat and make your stomach big.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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