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Afghanistan presidential election

Impoverished voters turn backs on election

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-08-18 Latest update 2009-08-19 09:42 TU

Khoshal, a migrant worker outside of Kabul, August 2009(Photo: RFI Tony Cross)

Khoshal, a migrant worker outside of Kabul, August 2009
(Photo: RFI Tony Cross)

Heavy traffic keeps up a constant roar on a busy road on the outskirts of Kabul, as four black donkeys munch on scraggy weeds on a patch of wasteland overlooked by building sites and small businesses. A group of scruffy kids plays in the dirt and dark-clothed women work by their homes.

Report: Afghan migrants

19/08/2009 by Tony Cross

 Those homes are dirty tents, pegs hammered into the dusty soil, roofs sagging, apparently exhausted by the stifling heat.

A group of men emerges from the tents, negotiating their way over the rough ground on the outskirts of the capital.

They are reluctant to talk. ‘‘What’s in it for us?" they ask. Finally, one of them, Khoshal, agrees to explain why they are here.

Children at the encampment(Photo: Tony Cross)

Children at the encampment
(Photo: Tony Cross)

They are from Laghman province, east of the capital, Kabul, he says. They are not Kuchis, the region's traditional travellers, but members of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

Pashtuns are usually farmers, rather than migrants, but every year during the summer months these families come to Kabul looking for work. They say they are driven there out of poverty.

‘‘We do not have any land, we do not have any houses,’’ Khoshal explains. ‘‘Plus there’s no work there. That’s why we all have to come and live here.’’

For the unskilled, work here is not only very hard, but also poorly paid. 

Pashtun migrants' tents on the outskirts of Kabul(Photo: Tony Cross)

Pashtun migrants' tents on the outskirts of Kabul
(Photo: Tony Cross)

Against the skyline, building workers are balancing on poles on the sixth or seventh floor of a block under construction. There is no scaffolding to stand on, and nothing to break any fall.

Near the tents stands a pile of grey bricks, drying in the sun. That is where the migrants work, if and when the boss needs them.

‘‘We do not know if we are going to work or not,’’ says Khoshal. ‘‘We work for one day, then we can’t find work for three or four days. And they only pay us 150-200 Afghani [about three euros] a day and that’s not enough.’’

Politics has little interest for these men. They don’t care who wins the presidential race. They don’t even have have anything to say about the armed Islamist insurgency of the Taliban.

‘‘Neither the Taliban nor the government help us – none of them," says Khoshal. ‘‘All we are worried about is working. We start in the morning, we go on till evening. We do not know about these things.’’

They won’t be voting in the election. They haven’t even registered, they say, either in Laghman or in Kabul.

Dumped medical supplies at the camp(Photo: Tony Cross)

Dumped medical supplies at the camp
(Photo: Tony Cross)

Under our feet is a pile of packets of pills, syringes and other medical supplies, dumped where some driver thought they could be easily disposed of.

The pills are past their use-by dates, the men explain. They are not of any use to anyone, but they could be dangerous for children playing there who might pick them up

‘‘Oh, our kids know not to do that,’’ they reply.

Afghanistan is the fifth poorest country in the world. Millions of Afghans live in poverty and most farmers survive on as little as one dollar a day, according to presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani.

Polling officials and politicians promise a good turnout in Thursday’s presidential election.

With Taliban threats to attack polling stations, some voters may not turn out because of security fears. Others simply do not believe that voting will change their wretched lives.