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Archive for September, 2010

Afghan women line up to vote under Afghan National Police protection*

Workers take ballot boxes to a remote polling station in Panjshir Province **

Within hours, the polls will open for the 2010 Afghan Parliamentary elections

I supported the Afghan National Army and Police forces during the 2009 Afghan Presidential election and was relieved when the parliamentary elections (originally scheduled for May) were postponed.

So with apologies to Clint Eastwood, here’s my take on the upcoming elections…

The good:  People will vote.  It’s obvious, but we tend to forget that an election in a country like Afghanistan is a Big Deal.  Are Afghans racked by war?   Duh.  Illiterate?  Almost entirely.  Discriminatory?  Mostly…especially against women.   But despite all that, Afghans will turn out to vote tomorrow, choosing their representatives on a ballot (like this) with candidate icons and pictures.   And 405 of the 2,577 candidates will be women.

The bad:  There will be fraud.  With fake voter registration cards going for only 23 cents apiece, it might be more accurate to say there will be LOTS of fraud.  But there is some silver lining:  It shouldn’t be as bad as the 2009 Presidential elections, and both Afghans and the International Community are watching closely, so it should get better over time.

The ugly:  As Joshua Faust points out, there will be blood.  According to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, Afghanistan has deployed 52,000 Afghan National Police and 63,000 Afghan National Army personnel across the country to provide election security.  Additionally, NATO forces stand ready to provide emergency security, medical and logistical support.  But voters are a VERY lucrative target for the insurgents, and the Taliban is both ruthless and effective…

Bottom line: For good, bad, or ugly, Afghans will choose their representatives tomorrow.  Like Rat, in Stephan Pastis’ comic Pearls Before Swine, I expect the best…

* Photo by Tyler Hicks, of the New York Times

** Photo by Shah Marai, of Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

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Luncheon at the Communication Support Unit headquarters

SSgt Jara, USAF, eats lunch with Afghan security guards in Panjshir*

Ramadan — known in Afghanistan as Ramazan — was a bummer, mostly because I’d really grown to love Afghan food.

When meeting with Afghans, we ALWAYS had chai, and usually also had a tray with tidbits like yellow raisins, dried yellow peas, almonds, pistachios, and rock candy crystals.  Often we  shared more exotic tidbits too…strange commercial candies, simyan (kind of like thin, curry-flavored chow mein noodles), laddu (honeyed balls of chick-pea flour), or almond meringue chunks.  And sometimes, we enjoyed a full-blown luncheon…shishkabobs and fresh naan, exotic soups, fruits, and vegetables, and sometimes even khabili, a traditional Afghan rice dish.

Except during Ramazan.  Most Afghans fast and refrain from drinking during daylight hours, and Coalition members go out of our way to not eat or drink around Afghans.  Which means neither chai nor fun Afghan food.

Most interesting though was talking to Afghans about the Coalition perspective on fasting.  My Afghan friends found it hilarious that we referred to ‘not eating food’ as ‘fasting’…to drink while fasting was almost inconceivable.

Bottom line:  I was embarrassed to forget that for most Afghans, not eating food during the day isn’t part of Ramazan.  It’s just a normal day…

* Photo by SGT Teddy Wade, US Army

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Kids near the airport: My final view of Kabul

My last evening in Afghanistan

I left Afghanistan late on 22 April, returning to Okinawa for a brief period, then moving to Texas and a new assignment.

My last image of Kabul was a small group of kids with big smiles…the girls were waving and the boys were giving us the “thumbs up.”  I like to think they believed things were getting better — slowly of course, but better — and appreciated our help.  But to this day, I wonder.

In Afghanistan, a “thumbs up” is notoriously hard to interpret.  Those who wish us well use it, because they’ve learned it means “excellent” in America.  But those who wish us ill use it too, because traditionally, it’s an obscene gesture.

Maybe they were just being ironic…

Bottom line:  To the kids of Afghanistan, farewell.  And fare well!

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