16/06/2014 09:24 BST | Updated 16/08/2014 06:59 BST

Election Day in Kabul

This morning I listened to the BBC's World Service news. I didn't expect that Afghanistan's elections would be the first item, and I was right. There was news from Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, South Sudan before a story on Afghanistan came up. The announcer said that at least 40 people had been killed yesterday during the polling for Afghanistan's elections. That was it! No mention that more than seven million had voted, that 38 per cent of those who voted were women, that the Taliban had vowed to disrupt this election and had failed utterly. What is wrong with the Western media - in the midst of chaos - of collapsing states - doesn't it want the occasional piece of good news? I thought that the election of 5 April, when 6.6million voted, more than twice the number who voted in 2009, might have been a fluke, but it wasn't! We know how to do it now - how to run a democratic election.


The head of one of the NGOs said that the queues this time were much shorter than those of 5 April, and that therefore the turn-out was probably lower. He didn't vote. I did. The reason the queues were shorter is that we had many more polling stations this time and that we had to choose between only two candidates - not eight, like last time. My friends and I also heard on the BBC yesterday a woman commentator saying that what was happening in Afghanistan wasn't a proper democratic process - that it was simply warlords ordering their followers to vote for a particular candidate. After my friends and I had finished laughing - we had tears streaming down our faces - we became quite angry and quite concerned. Is this what you believe about us in the West? It might be true of some remote villages in Helmand or the Arghandab, but it isn't in Kabul or Kandahar or Mazar e Sharif or Herat. Yes - there is the danger that we might vote in ethnic or religious blocks - doesn't this happen in America as well? - both candidates had supporters who covered the political spectrum. OK - it's probable that most Pashtun's in the south will vote for Ashraf Ghani and most Tajik's in the Panjshir will vote for Abdullah, but how many Afro Americans would vote for a Republican 'tea-party' candidate and how many Jewish Americans would vote for a candidate who wasn't one hundred per cent behind Israel? I'm not pretending there aren't difficulties but we've come a huge way since August 2009.


During the election campaign a great deal was made of the fact that Ashraf Ghani's wife is a Lebanese Christian. The people who thought this might turn the electorate against him were sadly disabused, at least amongst my generation. The response amongst all my friends was the same: 'So what - she's a Christian - she isn't the one who is going to be president.'

Nor am I pretending that voting in Afghanistan is like voting in Massachusetts or California. Eight days ago the Taliban set up a road block outside Herat, stopped a number of people, searched them to see if they were carrying voting cards and discovered twenty who were. They were Tajik, Turkomen, Uzbek, Hazara and Pashtuns, men representing most of tribes of Afghanistan, and the Taliban hacked off the index finger of each man. Yesterday they all voted. I watched them on Tolo news last night, holding up their right hands, their severed index fingers swathed in bandages, their still intact middle fingers stained with the blue ink which indicated they had all voted. One elder growled into the camera: 'They can cut off all my fingers - I'll still vote!'


The first reports from Helmand and Kandahar, the provinces most affected by Taliban activity, indicate that the vote had increased as well. We watched pictures last night of elderly women voting in Lashkar Gah, women who in all probability had spent most of their lives confined to the home. When one was asked if she was afraid to vote she replied: 'Yes - but it my duty as a Moslem - if we do not chose a leader we will have only ourselves to blame if the enemy returns.'

It is dangerous. We don't yet know how many people died yesterday, but this is what makes voting so very precious for us. In Kabul yesterday the security was tight. The ANA, Police and the NDS had set up roadblocks at most of the intersections and were searching under the hoods and in the trucks of each car. Everyone was searched, too, going into the polling booths. I was impressed by the efficiency of the organization. At least in my area there were plenty of ballot papers, and the staff - the polling officers and the officers responsible for scrutinizing the process - carried out their duties with a quiet efficiency.


I have a plea for President Obama. His announcement that America would pull out totally by December 2016 hit us like a punch in the stomach. You have achieved so much here - you haven't lost - this campaign wasn't a disaster - you've actually won - have you become so used to defeat that you don't you recognize victory anymore? When more than seven million vote in a well- organized election - yes, there will be accusations of corruption - remember the 'hanging chads'? - when seven million vote despite threats from the Taliban - when they vote even after the index fingers of their right hands have been severed - it means that you actually did something right!

Here is a plea - not just from me - but from my generation of young Afghans. The soldiers you have lost did not die in vain - the money you have spent has not been wasted - PLEASE - don't throw away what you have achieved. We are going to need your help for a few more years yet. It won't be forever - but it will be longer than two and a half years.