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Defiant Afghans vote despite violence

world Updated: Aug 20, 2009 18:03 IST
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Some voted eagerly, but many held back and waited to hear if the Taliban would make good on vows of violence on Thursday in Afghanistan's presidential election.

Those who defied the militants' threats and went to the polls displayed a range of emotions: pride, fear and hope that maybe with their votes, life would improve in the war-wracked country.

"I know the security situation of my country is not good, but I have made my decision to come and cast my vote anyway," Shukran Ahmad, 32, said as he waited at a polling center in western Kabul.

"I wanted to be the first person to vote today in this polling center," said Ahmad, dressed in pale blue traditional robes. He said four others in his family, including his sister and his mother, also planned to vote.

One Kabul center that swarmed with people in 2004 opened on time at 7 am, but with no voters.
The owner of a shop nearby did not see the point in casting his ballot. "I am not voting. It won't change anything in our country," said Mohammad Tahir, 30.

Reporters visiting polling stations reported considerably fewer voters than in 2004, when long lines formed well before the stations opened. This time there were seldom enough to form a line.

But in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a relatively safe area and a stronghold of presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah, voters came in a steady stream.

"I was so excited last night. All I could think about was today," said 20-year-old Shahima Haidari, a first-time voter. She cast her ballot for Abdullah, saying she has had enough of the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai.

Enayatullah Stanikzai, a white-bearded man in traditional robes and a black vest, said he believes the president has been a strong leader.

"I voted for Hamid Karzai. He's a good person for the future of Afghanistan. He brought unity to our country," said Stanikzai, accompanied by his 15-year-old son.

"My son asked me to show him the polling center. He was so interested, he said, 'When I turn 18 I want to go vote,"' Stanikzai explained, laughing. He said the rest of his family, including his wife, planned to cast their ballots after they finished breakfast. An explosion at a polling center and a gunfight with insurgents interrupted voting in eastern Kabul.

Mohammad Aslam, a 30-year-old construction supplies salesman, said he was too afraid to vote.
"This morning there was an explosion. And now there's been fighting," he said. Aslam pointed to a nearby mosque. "There is a polling center inside this mosque, but nobody is crazy enough to go there. It's better to stay at home."

In the southern city of Kandahar, voters showed up at polling centers despite rocket attacks in the morning.

"I was afraid to come and cast my vote. But my father encouraged me, 'Be brave you are an Afghan woman, you should have faith. It is the hand of God,"' said Jamila Bibi. "I will go back and tell others to come and vote since there were no problems." Mohammad Zahir voted at a high school in eastern Kabul for Ramazan Bashardost, a long-shot candidate and fellow member of the Hazara ethnic group who has campaigned against government corruption and the continued power of warlords.

"He spoke really well in the debate. His words made sense to me," said Zahir.

About 50 yards (meters) from one polling center in western Kabul, five men watched and waited.

"Yes, we are going to vote," said 35-year-old Abdul Rahman, showing his voting card. He said they were waiting to see a line of people go inside and vote safely.

"If anything happens to the polling center, we don't want to be too close to it."

Rahman, who sells fruit from a cart in the streets of Kabul, said he planned to vote for Karzai. He and his wife were going to wait until late in polling day to be sure that it was safe.