Afghanistan elections: Voters ready to cross tribal lines in attempt to bring peace

It's far from perfect but the hope is this historic poll will be good enough

Kabul

On election day at Zargona High School in Kabul, the mood was ebullient. In the morning the rain had stopped just before polls opened, and enthused voters had queued up past the gate to cast their ballots. Most had taken part in previous elections; many held up their well-worn voting identification with pride, but none had seen the like of yesterday's historic poll before.

Ahmad Mustafa, a geography teacher at another nearby high school, had brought his wife and two daughters. He proudly explained that they were all casting their ballots for different candidates, not voting along tribal or ethnic lines. Mr Mustafa, like many others waiting in orderly queues, said he wanted a new leader who could bring peace and security. "I feel happy. This is the day of happiness," he repeated, breaking into a toothless grin.

If the run-up to the presidential election – hoped to bring about the country's first peaceful transition of power since 1901 – was dominated by bombings and shootings, yesterday proved largely, for post-war Afghanistan at least, peaceful. The Taliban had threatened to target voters, and tensions were high after the shooting of two highly respected journalists, Kathy Gannon and Anja Niedringhaus, at Khost, near the Pakistani border, by a man in police uniform on Friday. Ms Niedringhaus, a photographer with the Associated Press, died in the attack, Ms Gannon, a correspondent, was injured.

Kabul awoke to a report of a bomb explosion in the northern part of the city yesterday. A voter was shot dead in Paktia. A suicide bomber was arrested before entering a polling station in Faryab. A bomb went off in Baghlan. But voters said incidents were not out of the ordinary.

Since the fall of the Taliban women have had more freedom Since the fall of the Taliban women have had more freedom The influential police commander Abdul Razik closed off the city of Kandahar, resulting in lower than expected levels of violence. Text message services were shut by the government until polls closed. Those wanting to cast ballots expressed pride in the security forces guarding the election.

"There was a time when we could not even think of risking our lives for one vote," said Abdul Baki, 36, a government employee in Kandahar. "But now with this security so tight, I can clearly see the value of these votes and I hope that this election will be fair." At Zargona High School there were 20 armed men protecting voters and the ballot boxes. The national police had cordoned off the street, and conspicuous plain-clothes police officers were in abundance.

Inside, while the men's section bustled, the women's side of the polling station was relatively empty, with observers outnumbering voters. Marzia, a widow and cleaner at the high school, said she had voted for President Hamid Karzai in previous elections. This time she did not have an obvious choice, as Mr Karzai is constitutionally banned from running again, and so she struggled to decide. She hoped that a new president would fix the economy, which is largely subsidised by foreign donors, so that her four children could get good jobs in the future.

Voters get their fingers marked Voters get their fingers marked The poll was only the country's third for president, and the first political transition that comes as the Nato coalition forces withdraw.

The international community has made it clear that Afghanistan's financial future hinges on an acceptable result. Observers say that a fraudulent result is bound to test the patience of the donor community, whose interest is already waning and turning to newer causes such as Central Africa Republic or Syria. They point out that Afghanistan cannot continue as a state without external aid. The election itself, costing $129m (£78m), is being funded by foreign donors. There is no obvious frontrunner, leaving the country potentially divided.

Far from the uplifting scenes of voters lining up to cast their ballots yesterday, in Kabul's south-western district of Khushal Khan, Mohammad Hajidat Janan, a provincial council candidate, lives on an eight-storey building called Wardak Plaza, where many other elected officials from the province reside.

Despite being an elected official of Wardak province, an hour's drive from Kabul, he said he could not go to his own district – a Taliban stronghold – because of the deteriorating security situation there.

Without a police escort, he said, "I would not even feel comfortable going to the city centre". Of the eight presidential candidates, none ever visited Wardak during the campaign period, he added. Only Zalmai Rassoul's vice-presidential candidate, Habiba Sarabi, drove into Maidan Shar, the provincial capital, but left within the hour. "If the security forces cannot provide security to candidates, how can we expect them to provide security for the voters?" he asked.

Mr Janan worried that most of the 350,000 security forces had been focused on securing the polling booths which were in provincial capitals or district centres, under the gaze of election observers, security forces and the international community. No one outside the capitals would vote, he claimed, because the fear of reprisal outweighed the desire to take part in the democratic process. The capital, Kabul, was sealed off by rings of roadblocks and checkpoints.

The second main threat facing Afghanistan's election, after militant violence, was fraud. Mr Janan said that without adequate independent adjudicators for every polling place, the election results would lose credibility. He said: "If you put a wolf in a room with a sheep, and tell the wolf 'wolf, don't eat this sheep', of course the wolf will eat the sheep. If no one is watching over the ballot boxes, of course it will be stuffed."

The secretary of the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission, Ziaul Haq Amarkhel, said that by 5pm, when the polls had officially closed, seven million people out of an estimated eligible 12 million had voted. Last night, there were several reports that the police in Kandahar province in the south turned voters and election observers away from polling stations. One elder told the BBC that election observers had been beaten by police.

In the morning, unverified rumours of ballot stuffing emerged in Helmand, a woman was said to have been caught attempting to cast 22 votes in Kandahar. Asked to comment on widespread reports of polling stations running out of ballot papers, Mr Amarkhel said this information was "false".

Afghans continued to head to the polls as dusk fell, even if they were to be turned away. The biggest challenge now is counting the votes. And after that, the complaints period starts. One of the eight candidates will have to score more than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a run-off with his nearest rival. Challenges to the result will be inevitable, observers said.

It will take six weeks for all the results to come in and a final result to be declared in the race to succeed President Karzai. "Today we proved to the world that this is a people-driven country," Mr Karzai, wearing his trademark green robe and a lambskin hat, told his country on television yesterday. "On behalf of the people, I thank the security forces, election commission and people who exercised democracy and... turned another page in the glorious history of Afghanistan."

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices