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Testing time in Kabul Univ

“Hindustani Times. Hindustani Times,” the gun-toting policeman at the main gate of the Kabul University tells his superior. The need for a special media pass to go inside polling booths becomes magically redundant, reports Indrajit Hazra.

world Updated: Aug 20, 2009 19:58 IST
Indrajit Hazra

“Hindustani Times. Hindustani Times,” the gun-toting policeman at the main gate of the Kabul University tells his superior. The need for a special media pass to go inside polling booths becomes magically redundant. Instead, a few exchanges in broken ‘Urdu’ gets one inside the political science faculty building where six polling booths have been set up. In one room, with piled-up chairs dumped against the wall, an Afghan election official is sitting quietly behind two large plastic boxes, one with a green label (presidential vote), another with an orange one (provincial vote). Two other men sit at the other end of this classroom. One of them is smoking as he helps a policeman dip his finger into a bottle of ink that's been taped firmly to the table-top. The other, with sheaves of ballot paper, is staring out of the window into the sparkingly clean summer day outside. Three makeshift cardboard 'curtains' have been set up on one side of the room behind which the voter will decide his vote. Trouble is, in this room and the five others, there aren’t many voters.

Outside, Mohammad Yama, 18, will be casting his vote for the first time. His father had been killed by the Taliban when he was 4 and his choice is President Hamid Karzai’s main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, the former Foreign Minister. “He’s a mujahed (fighter). Abdullah can bring things under control.” Yama’s classmate at the Jamal Nina School, Akhmed Naweed, is inside on election duty. “Few people are voting. People are afraid of attacks,” says Naweed, who’ll be voting for Abdullah too. But seems to be more interested in a different poll. “Do you know Shah Rukh Khan? He’s a beautiful actor, the best,” he says in English.

A block away in this sprawling campus now shut for vacations, three polling booths have been set up for women voters. At the entrance, uniformed guards are chatting with two seated women officials. A small group of women, scarf-clad and giggling, come out as if after a matinee show.

For Rahmatullah Ghani, this is the second time he's voting. “The last time I voted for Karzai. This time it’s for Abdullah,” says the 28-year-old engineer originally from Kunduz. “My friends make fun of my switching votes, but this time I’m intelligent,” he says tapping his forehead.

A few bearded men in Pathan suits are furiously washing their hands under a tap, perhaps not to leave the voting ink on their fingers. Many more Kabul residents have taken the stronger precaution of staying away from elections altogether. Amanullah, a Hazara taxi driver, however, isn’t voting because he’s scared of terrorist attacks. “I’ve been driving for the last 14 years in Kabul. The only difference is that I had to keep a beard and couldn’t play music in my car when the Taliban were ruling,” he says with a chuckle. “I need passengers. Not a president.”