It is Friday night, election eve, here in Kabul. The walk home from dinner was quiet, dark, and strange feeling. One might interpret this atmosphere as the calm before the storm, as tomorrow at 5am polling stations will start to open all over the nation.
At work my Afghan colleagues mention at what time they plan to vote during the course of the workday. On the way home I asked the cab driver if he would vote tomorrow, “Oh yes… oh yes” he said without hesitation. At the front gate I greeted a neighbor and asked him about voting plans tomorrow, “Yes for sure” responds my neighbor, as if the question itself does not need asking. A seemingly calm city and a hand full of enthusiastic citizens surely skews my vision of what is certainly not a rosy picture across the country.
There is no shortage of threats and conflicts surrounding both the elections and the campaign leading up to them. Many pointed to the kidnapping of a candidate earlier today, as a sign of how bad things are. Earlier this month the murders of campaign workers and candidates, more stories that have echoed through the globe, as examples of a process that couldn’t possibly be considered successful.
But what about in cities throughout Afghanistan where a record number of candidates (2,577+) are not only on the ballot but actively campaigning. Candidates of different cultures, tribes, gender, ages, and political backgrounds, all taking part in the process despite the risks and the cynicism. There is also the voting material, destined for 5,897 polling stations, being carefully shipped and stored to be ready for the voting process that begins in a matter of hours. In many remote areas of the country, this essential material is transported by donkey, as the most reliable and time-tested form of transportation. The list of people and resources mobilized for these elections is of a scale that cannot be simply written off as insignificant.
Yet these words will be drowned out almost immediately as the bad things that have happened and will happen get amplified by those trying to measure what is happening here. People demand conclusions as quickly and easy to read as possible, which often means nevermind what has gone right, and what is commendable and positive about this process, it is easier to remember and tell the stories of bombs, kidnappings, fraud and dysfunction.
For my part, even before the voting has begun, I know what I’ve seen here, and I’ve spent lots of time reading and hearing reports from across this nation. Regardless of what the media says and what the pundits conclude or how they choose to insult those that share my observations and opinions, I’m telling you that something good and special is going on here. This phenomenon does not end on election day, there will be no declaration of victory or defeat, this is simply one more step along a very difficult path.