by Tony Cross
Article published on the 2009-11-12 Latest update 2009-11-24 09:43 TU
A teenage boy sands a door frame in the sun as cars and lorries roar past a carpentry shop in Kabul’s Yakatoot district. The area, a busy but not very wealthy collection of homes and small workplaces along the road to Jalalabad, is predominantly Pashtoon, Afghanistan’s majority ethnic group. President Hamid Karzai is a Pashtoon, as are the majority of his a
rmed opponents, the Taliban.
Faizullah, who runs the shop, is glad that Karzai did not have to face a second round of voting in the presidential election, whose 20 August first round was marred by widespread fraud. “Afghanistan is a poor country,” he says. “We don’t need to spend a lot of money on a second round.”
Although they accept that there was corruption in the electoral process, as in all aspects of life here, most Yakatoot residents seem to be relieved that there was no second round. The first round ended in a messy political crisis, with Karzai’s opponents, especially former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, crying foul and foreign politicians calling Karzai or visiting Kabul to give the incumbent a good talking-to.
But Faizullah does not seem to believe that either Karzai, or any other politician, can solve the legacy of 30 years of war very speedily. And he sees foreign politicians’ interventions as an affront to Afghans. “It is not good because Afghanistan is an independent country,” he says. “It can do everything on its own.” If the countries which send troops to the US-led international force in Afghanistan, Isaf, are sincere about wanting to help Afghanistan, they should set a date for withdrawal, he adds.
During the campaign, Karzai insisted that he would try and talk with the Taliban in an effort to win peace. That might mean offering some of their leaders posts in the government, a policy which Faizullah and other Yakatoor residents support. “We don’t have any problem with the Taliban,” says Amanullah, who works in one of the area’s makeshift metalworking shops. “They can come and join the government.”
The Taliban are “our brothers”, as are members of Afghanistan’s other ethnic groups, he says, claiming that the present armed groups are not really the same movement which ran the country according to their strict version of Islam before the 2001 invasion.
Another metalworker, Mohammed Rafi, sees little prospect of agreement between the two sides. He is cynical about the Taliban’s motives as he is about the government’s. “They are fighting for their own interests,” he says. “They want to have an important seat in the government.”
In the more prosperous neighbourhood of Macrorian, most of the residents are Tajiks. The Tajiks are the country’s second-largest ethnic group and many of them supported Abdullah, who is half-Pashtun, half-Tajik and was part of the Northern Alliance which fought against the Taliban.
There is more concern over electoral fraud here, but still few regrets that the vote did not go to a second round. “We hoped that we would have a transparent election but it was not,” says businessman Saed Asef. But he does not think that there should have been an Abdullah-Karzai run-off. “We still have many security problems in Afghanistan and we are happy that it didn’t go to the next round.” Karzai will not stamp out corruption, he says. “It is clear to all that Karzai is working with the Mafia.”
And the western powers have double-standards in their treatment of the country. Asef considers the British to be especially hypocritical. “They want an actual democracy for themselves, but not in Afghanistan,” he believes. Why? “You must ask them.”
Although he supported Abdullah and would have liked a second round, 18-year-old student Faisal, supports the call for talks with the Taliban. “The Taliban should stop fighting and make peace with the government,” he says. They should be offered seats in the government but there should be no return to their previous hard-line policies, he believes. “They should let boys and girls go to school.”