Kim Sengupta: A dubious litmus test for the poll

Our man in Helmand questions the election's integrity

Share
Related Topics

Call it the mystery of the invisible voters. At one polling station in Nad-e-Ali, just over 400 people had voted by 1pm. Three hours later, the figure had apparently surged to some 1,200.

This despite the fact the streets were empty, all shops and businesses were shut and an Afghan army officer saying his men standing guard had hardly seen any civilians heading to these particular voting booths.

Casting further suspicion on the sudden leap, the number of voters at two more polling stations visited by The Independent remained stationary at one, and rose by 20 at the other.

Election officials were later seen counting piles of ballot papers, without even checking the choices, simply declaring the votes had been cast for incumbent president Hamid Karzai.

Nad-e-Ali, the most populous area of the volatile Helmand province, had become something of a litmus test for yesterday's poll.

A series of operations by British and Afghan government troops had retaken land from the Taliban with the aim of bringing the population into a security envelope so voters could actually get to the polls.

But despite this, the largest election monitoring group had refused to come to the district, deeming it still too dangerous. On the day there were rockets, machine-gun fire and mortar roads. Roadside bombs, deaths and injuries.

A six-year-old boy, called Muslim, and his 14-year-old cousin were brought into the medical centre at the Welsh Guards Battle Group headquarters after one round aimed at the British military base overshot and landed on a civilian house.

"The little boy had serious wounds and... there was nothing more we could do. It was very, very hard to take to see someone so young die," said Major Colin Wall, an Army doctor. "We sent the girl to the hospital in [the provincial capital] Lashkar Gar."

Officially, Nad-e-Ali district has around 50,000 registered voters, but only a fraction of them voted yesterday. Around 12,000 voters were automatically doomed to disenfranchisement because they lived in the pockets of the district that remain in Taliban hands.

And for the women among the remaining 38,000 voters, it was never going to be possible for them to exercise their voting rights in this deeply conservative society, because of a shortage of female election staff.

"We cannot even get the men to come here, so how could we get women? It was never going to happen," said one exasperated official.

A senior British official, Jim Haggerty, who made repeated checks of polling stations throughout the day, admitted there had been the occasional disappointment at isolated locations, but said that overall the day was a success. "This is a small but significant step in establishing governance in this part of Afghanistan," he said.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all