Why Afghan Elections Matter

By Rubin, Trudy | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), April 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Why Afghan Elections Matter


Rubin, Trudy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


When Afghans went to the polls last week to elect a new president, Afghan social media enthusiasts sent out some incredible photos of women voters.

The long, snaking lines of women in burkas, holding up sheets of plastic for protection from freezing rain, were a stunning repudiation of Taliban misogyny and violence. My favorite photo, tweeted by an Afghan journalist named Shafi Sharifi, showed an elderly, black-draped lady in a wheelchair, holding up a forefinger stained with indelible ink, saying: "I voted because women can't expect things to improve if they don't vote."

Cynics take note: These elections matter, not just for Afghan women but for the future of the country. And they show why the United States should maintain strong economic and security ties to Kabul.

I know you've seen those purple fingers before, in Iraq, where 2005 elections were supposed to pave the way to democracy but led to more sectarian violence. Elections haven't turned out well in Egypt, either.

I also know this election isn't over - preliminary results won't be known until the end of April and, if none of the eight candidates gets more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a runoff. Moreover, the Taliban remain a threat - especially because neighboring Pakistan gives them safe haven.

But this election proved that Afghanistan is not the hopeless case many Americans believe it to be.

First, the vote showed that most Afghans want change by ballot, not the bullet - meaning they want better government, better security, and less corruption. This was Afghanistan's third presidential election, and the last, in 2009, was marked by such fraud that it disillusioned many voters. Yet this time election observers say the level of fraud was way down, and voter turnout was double that of 2009. So many voted that several polling places ran out of ballots, and the numbers would have been even higher had there not been Taliban intimidation in some rural areas.

Second, "This vote was a strong 'No' to the Taliban, and a reaction to the violence," according to the well-known Afghan human- rights activist Sima Samar, whom I reached by phone in Kabul. Voters disregarded Taliban demands that they stay home. …

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