The Independent Election Commission (IEC) on Sunday released partial results from last week’s presidential elections, with Abdullah Abdullah leading his closest rival Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
Based on the 10 percent votes counted (506,843 votes) from 26 provinces of the country’s 34 provinces showed Abdullah led with 41.9 percent or (212,312) votes, followed by Ahmadzai with 37.6 percent or (190,561) votes.
Dr. Zalmai Rassoul trailed far behind with 9.8 percent or (49,821) votes, Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf secured 5.1 percent or (25,679) votes, Qutbuddin Hilal 2.7 percent or (13,536) votes and Muhammad Shafiq Gul Agha Sherzai 2.2 percent or (11,132) votes.
Another candidate Daud Sultanzoyi secured 0.5 percent or (2,442) votes while Hidayat Amin Arsala bagged 0.3 percent or (1,360) votes.
Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the IEC chief, who announced the partial results, made it clear that the results were not final and could change in future.
As many as seven million people cast their votes in the April 5 elections. Partial results were earlier scheduled for Saturday, but postponed until Sunday.
Dozens of photos and video clips have been released on social media sites, showing instances of widespread fraud in some polling stations. The IEC on Sunday said it had recorded 870 incidents of fraud classed as "Priority A", complaints considered serious enough to affect the outcome of the election.
Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) spokesman Nadir Muhseni said so far 3,274 complaints had been registered and 1,892 of them had documents in support.
Among the complaints classed as "Priority A, 338 are against presidential runners, 537 against provincial council contenders and 1,017 against IEC staff. Final results are due on May 14.
Partial Afghan Election Results Put Abdullah Abdullah in Lead
ISLAMABAD — Preliminary and partial official results from Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential election show a close contest between opposition politician Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission has counted more than 500,000 votes of the seven million ballots cast. The early figures put Abdullah Abdullah in the lead with nearly 42 percent of the votes counted while his nearest rival, Ashraf Ghani, has about 38 percent.
Announcing the details at a news conference Sunday in Kabul, Commission Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani cautioned this is not the final result and the frontrunner could change. He said the initial results are from just 10 percent of the polling stations in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Afghan officials also acknowledge that recorded incidents of serious fraud have exceeded figures for the 2009 presidential election when more than a million votes were canceled. Nuristani says his commission is determined to address the issue.
He said there is no doubt fraud has taken place in many parts and the Independent Election commission is firmly committed to resolve the issue within its authority and present only those results that are free of fraud.
Nuristani vowed to do so in a transparent and open manner in the presence of media, election observers and representatives of the candidates.
He emphasized the primary job of investigating irregularities and fraudulent votes lies with the country’s Independent Election Complaints Commission.
There could be a runoff election between Abdullah and Ghani if neither gains more than 50 percent of the vote when the final results are announced on May 14.
The initial results show a third candidate running with the support of President Hamid Karzai’s brothers - Zalmai Rassoul - trails far behind with nearly 10 percent of the votes counted.
Speaking to reporters, presidential candidate Ghani said the lead Abdullah has at this stage is not significant.
“We are in a hundred minute (football) game and we have only down with ten minutes," Ghani said. "So, as Chairman Nuristani said the results will change every day, every two days, three days.”
The international community is praising the high turnout of an estimated 60 percent of the 12 million eligible Afghan voters in the April 5 balloting, there are fears the evidence of widespread fraud could undermine the legitimacy of the election seen crucial for Afghanistan’s future stability.
The winning candidate will replace President Hamid Karzai who has been leading the country for more than 12 years and could not run again because of constitutional limits. The political transition will be the first democratic transfer of power in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
The United Nations welcomed Sunday’s announcement of the first batch of partial results as a further step towards completing the election process, while noting the figures represent only a small portion of the millions of ballots cast.
A statement from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan cautioned that until the final results are announced by election authorities, “stakeholders should be careful in drawing premature conclusions so as not to create inaccurate expectations.”
Partial Afghan Election Results Show Runoff Likely
KABUL, Afghanistan — In the first official report of partial results from the Afghan presidential election, the candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani appeared to be leading in a race where a runoff election was increasingly certain, according to data released by the Independent Election Commission on Sunday.
The commission warned that these early results, representing 10 percent of the votes cast in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, could well change as tabulating continued over the coming weeks. The votes will be fully counted by April 24, and a runoff election would be held no sooner than May 28, officials have said.
The results could well be affected, possibly dramatically, by widespread fraud at the polls. The election complaints commission said on Sunday that it had received so many serious fraud complaints that it might have to extend the time needed to adjudicate them. The commission said it had 870 incidents of fraud classified as serious enough to affect the outcome of the election, higher than the 815 such incidents recorded in 2009.
The commission had earlier said that complaints were fewer than in the hotly disputed 2009 election, but apparently reversed that view on Sunday. However, a spokesman for the commission, Nader Mohseni, said that the commission did not have records from the 2009 election, and could not be sure of any comparisons made between the two polls.
With about half a million votes cast, Mr. Abdullah was leading with 212,312 votes, about 41.9 percent of the total, followed by Mr. Ghani, with 190,561 votes or 37.6 percent. Zalmay Rassoul, a former foreign minister, had 9.8 percent, and Abdul Raab Sayyaf, a warlord and former member of parliament, had 5.1 percent.
Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the election commission, warned that “these results are changeable, it is possible that one candidate is the front-runner in today’s announcement but the next news conference may be another candidate as the front-runner.”
In addition, some votes may be disallowed. “We are investigating fraudulent votes very carefully, and there’s a strong possibility that some of the vote will be disqualified,” Mr. Nuristani said.
Even before the results were in, the apparent losing candidates were locked in negotiations with Mr. Abdullah in an effort to form coalitions in a runoff.
“These days everybody is talking to everybody,” Mr. Abdullah said in an interview on Saturday, while awaiting the release of the results. “We have no doubt in our mind that by taking care of some of the problems that occurred last time and preventing them from happening again there will be even a much, much clearer lead and victory, if it goes to the second round.”
Both Mr. Ghani’s and Mr. Abdullah’s campaigns had confidently predicted that each would win at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round.
Mr. Ghani, a technocrat and a member of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, seemed to garner widespread support among them. Mr. Rassoul, also a Pashtun, fared less well, but had strong support among government officials and urban elites.
Mr. Abdullah, who is half Pashtun and half Tajik, is more closely identified with the Tajiks, who dominate in the north but are less numerous than the Pashtuns. So a Rassoul-Abdullah runoff alliance, which was among those being discussed, could be potent if the two campaigns can negotiate an alliance.
After the results were announced, Mr. Abdullah seemed in no mood to start celebrating, despite being the early front-runner. “It’s the beginning of the counting process,” Mr. Abdullah said, at his house and campaign headquarters. “Whether the remaining part of the process works in a transparent and fair manner remains to be seen.”
Mr. Abdullah and President Hamid Karzai met on Thursday to discuss the election results. “He said that whatever the outcome, the winner will be congratulated by him,” Mr. Abdullah said of the current president.
All three leading candidates, among a field of eight, complained about fraud at the polls this year. In 2010 parliamentary elections and the 2009 presidential race, more than a fifth of all votes cast were invalidated because of tampering and other irregularities.
Some spectacular examples of irregularities were noted. In Khost, a member of parliament forced his way into a polling place at gunpoint and made off with the ballot boxes, according to the complaints commission. One candidate showed a reporter five books of 100 presidential ballots each, all marked for Mr. Ghani, along with a stamp used to authenticate the ballots and voter registration cards enabling people to cast their votes. The candidate, who did not want to be identified as the ballots should have been turned into the authorities, said he had gotten them from concerned soldiers who had confiscated them before they could be cast.
With many new controls introduced to prevent fraud, it seemed likely Afghan authorities would be able to counteract a great many attempts at fraud, as they had done in previous elections even without the same high-tech measures in place.
In other ways, though, the election seemed to be unfolding well so far.
Election officials said turnout was expected to have topped 7 million voters, and could end up around 7.5 million. Even if a million of those votes were disallowed because of fraud and ballot tampering in some areas, it would still be a more impressive showing than the disputed and fraud-strewn 2009 election, which returned Mr. Karzai to power.
The election results brought a seldom-seen outpouring of nationalistic pride among Afghans, and many people voted despite having to dip their fingers in indelible ink to prevent repeat voting, which would take several days to wear off and therefore carried a risk of insurgent retaliation in many rural areas.
While the run-up to the elections was particularly violent, including attacks by 39 suicide bombers during the two-month-long campaign period, many of those attacks were against foreign targets and almost none against the heavily guarded candidates and their campaign staffs.
A series of high profile attacks on foreigners in Kabul killed one foreign election monitor and helped drive many international observers out of the country. But as Election Day itself approached, the Afghan government declared a four-day-long holiday and shut down this capital city, blocking highways in and out, and flooding the streets with soldiers and police.
Both in Kabul and elsewhere, the security precautions seemed to work, which in turn helped encourage greater voter turnout. Lutfullah Mashal, the spokesman for the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, said that the authorities had thwarted thousands of possible attacks during the campaign period, and arrested 262 insurgents, most of them would-be suicide bombers.
“This is a great historic moment in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Nuristani, the election commission head. “Through this election process power will be transmitted peacefully from one president to another. It’s a great chapter in our history, and the high turnout even though there were many threats from the enemies of their country, show that Afghans want to determine the political destiny of their country.”
Partial results show tight race in Afghan election
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Two clear front-runners emerged in Afghanistan's presidential election Sunday as partial results showed a tight race between President Hamid Karzai's closest rival in the last vote and a former World Bank official.
With 10 percent of the ballots counted, Abdullah Abdullah, who came in second in the disputed 2009 election, had 41.9 percent, followed by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai with 37.6 percent. In third place with 9.8 percent of the vote was Zalmai Rassoul, another former foreign minister who was considered a favorite of Karzai.
Karzai himself was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Officials cautioned the vote count could change as full preliminary results were not due until April 24, but the early numbers suggest none of the eight candidates was likely to get the outright majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Shortly after the results were announced, Abdullah told The Associated Press he has held talks with Rassoul but it was premature to discuss a possible alliance. He said he will seek a unity government if elected, but he appeared to rule out the possibility of including Ghani.
"Dr. Ghani could serve as a loyal opposition. That's also a service to the nation," he said in an interview at his house in Kabul.
Ghani, however, remained confident that he would be in first place when all votes were counted. He dismissed talk of a political deal to avoid a runoff, saying he would contest a second round of voting if the results required it.
"We are in a 100-minute game and we've only done 10 minutes," he said, adding that with millions of votes still to be counted, he and Abdullah are only a little over 21,000 votes apart.
The chairman of the Independent Election Commission, Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, also said it was too soon to predict the outcome with so few of the more than 7 million ballots cast counted.
"Maybe today one candidate looks strong. Tomorrow, maybe another will pull ahead," he said.
Final results are to be declared in mid-May once complaints of fraud are fully investigated.
The man who replaces Karzai, the only president Afghans have known since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001, faces a huge task in fighting the insurgents and overseeing the withdrawal of the last foreign combat troops by the end of this year.
The new president is also likely to sign a security agreement with the United States that would allow thousands of foreign troops to remain in the country to continue training security forces after 2014. Karzai - perhaps trying to shake off his image as a creation of the Americans - has refused to sign it, further chilling relations with Washington.
Abdullah, who has said he would sign the security pact within a month of taking office, told the AP his position has not changed.
The election was held amid threats of violence by insurgents, who launched dozens of attacks in the run-up to the polls but largely failed to tamp down turnout.
The Taliban rejected Sunday's partial results.
"These elections and their results are not legitimate. The country is occupied and there is fighting in the big cities. The winner and the loser are both criminals," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said.
The results released Sunday are for 10 percent of the vote in 26 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. They represent a little over 500,000 ballots, Nouristani said.
Abdullah, who came in second to Karzai in the disputed 2009 election, had 212,312 votes. Ghani had 190,561 and Rassoul trailed with 49,821 votes. Numbers for the other five candidates were not announced.
Nearly 1,900 complaints of fraud have been filed, but the number is lower than that of the last election, said Mohammed Nadir Mohseni, the spokesman of the complaints committee of the Independent Elections Commission. Each allegation will be scrutinized so that there would be no question of the outcome of the April 5 vote, he said.
Of the complaints under investigation, 870 are serious enough to potentially affect results, he said. It was unclear if the majority of the alleged fraud favored one candidate or another.
Widespread allegations of fraud marred the 2009 vote and led to a third of the ballots for Karzai being disqualified, depriving him of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. His nearest rival, Abdullah, quit before a second round could be held, saying he did not believe it would be fair either.
Partial results in Afghanistan's crucial presidential election show a tight race between ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
Mr Abdullah has received 41.9% of the votes counted so far and Ghani has 37.6%.
The chairman of the Independent Election Commission, Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, warned that the front-runner could easily change.
The results released today are for 10% of the vote in 26 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. They represent a little over 500,000 of the 7 million ballots cast.
Mr Abdullah, who came in second in the disputed 2009 election, had 212,312 votes. Mr Ghani had 190,561 and former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul trailed with 49,821 votes.
Full preliminary results are due April 24. A runoff in May could be necessary if no candidate gets a majority.
Afghan Candidates Jockey For Position Ahead Of Expected Second Round
KABUL -- It may be weeks before results of Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election are announced, but the behind-the-scenes horse trading among the three leading contenders appears to be well under way.
Abdullah Abdullah kicked off what is expected to be a protracted period of deal-making when he revealed that he has met with rival candidate Zalmai Rasul about the possibility of Rasul throwing his support behind Abdullah in any second round. Rasul, like Abdullah a former foreign minister, is considered a distant third in the race.
There has even been speculation that some sort of a deal might be struck behind closed doors to avoid a runoff, although such a scenario would be unconstitutional.
Abdullah indicated he was exploring the possibility of teaming up with Rasul.
"We have been in the same government in the old days. We have been friends for many years," Abdullah said in an interview with Reuters on April 9. "So that is the personal part of it. The rest of it depends on the common understanding of certain subjects and certain policies. So I will say that he will be one of the people that one can work with. That is in theory. But in practice we have not [been in those] areas during our discussions."
No Second Round In 2009
Partial results that have been accumulated by Afghan news organizations suggest that no candidate is likely to win the first round outright with more than 50 percent of the national vote. In that case, a second round runoff will be held in late May, significantly delaying the wait for the announcement of a final winner.
Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, currently lead in partial, unofficial tallies. Preliminary results from the first round are not expected until April 24; official results aren't likely to be announced before May 14, meaning that there is likely to be a long period of deal-making, debate, and disputes until a new leader is eventually sworn in. That's unlikely before July at the earliest.
Although a secret deal to avoid a runoff is unconstitutional, there is precedence.
In the 2009 election, current President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah advanced to a second round. But Abdullah pulled out of a second round after protracted negotiations that included mediators from the United States. Publicly, he said he was standing down because he believed the contest would not be fair. The vote was marred by widespread allegations of fraud in favor of the incumbent.
Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent research organization in Kabul, notes that all kinds of scenarios are possible.
"A deal to avoid a second round would not be according to the procedures, but they could improvise it," she says. "It wouldn't necessarily be illegal and if everybody agreed to it, it could happen."
Van Bijlert says part of the reason candidates might not want a second round is because they do not want to leave the outcome up to the whim of voters and the vagaries of a fledgling democratic process. She says there is also reluctance for a second round because of the instability it could cause and the high cost it would entail.
'Get Rid Of Deal-Making'
Such a scenario does not go down well with some voters.
Rahimullah, a resident of Kabul, calls any secret brokering illegal and undemocratic.
"Nobody likes a government as a result of deal-making," he says. "We Afghans voted this year so we could get rid of any deal-making. This is my view and the views of many other people."
The three front-runners, all of whom have said they are confident of winning, have publicly said they will resist any deal-making and will contest a second round.
Ghani has repeatedly said Afghan voters should not be deprived of the chance to have their voices heard, saying, "There has to be a clear winner."
Abdullah has also said the public's choice should be respected and has ruled out forging any kind of backroom deal.
"The team which will govern Afghanistan will not be an exclusive team,” he told Reuters. "The inclusiveness is part of our strategy. But that does not suggest that we are making a coalition government in order to avoid a runoff or anything like it."
Complaints of serious fraud in Afghan election exceed total in 2009
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Complaints Commission said Sunday that more incidents of serious fraud were reported in this month’s presidential election than in the previous one in 2009, when more than a million suspect votes were thrown out.
The complaints body hinted it might need more time than expected to investigate all of the complaints though the volume would not affect the overall schedule for electing a leader. Final results are due May 14.
“There is a possibility, in order to review the high number of complaints accurately, that we may expand the time frame for reviewing complaints in provinces for some days,” IECC spokesman Nader Mohseni said.
Afghanistan’s allies praised the April 5 vote as a success because of the high turnout, estimated at 60 percent of 12 million eligible votes, and the failure of Taliban militants to stage high-profile attacks on the day.
But evidence of widespread fraud could undermine the legitimacy of an election meant to usher in Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power, as incumbent Hamid Karzai prepares to step down after more than 12 years in power, and as Western forces prepare to leave.
The three front-runners have all complained of fraud.
To win, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of valid ballots. Failing that, the top two candidates go into a runoff.
Partial results in the presidential election showed a tight race between ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah has received 41.9 percent of the votes counted so far and Ghani has 37.6 percent.
The chairman of the IECC, Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, warned that the front-runner could easily change.
The results released Sunday are for 10 percent of the vote in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. They represent a little over 500,000 of the 7 million ballots cast.
Abdullah, who came in second in the disputed 2009 election, had 212,312 votes. Ghani had 190,561 and former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul trailed with 49,821 votes.
The IECC has recorded a total 870 incidents of fraud classed as “Priority A,” complaints considered serious enough to affect the outcome of the election, higher than the 815 incidents recorded in 2009.
Video clips of polling station workers and other people stuffing ballot boxes are circulating on the Internet, but it remains unclear whether fraudulent votes might have benefited any one candidate over another.
In 2009, ballot-box stuffing was the most common type of fraud. The complaints commission has yet to disclose which type of suspected fraud was most prevalent this time.
Overall, the IECC has recorded a total 3,724 complaints, exceeding the total of 3,072 in 2009.
The number could rise as complaints reported in the provinces reach Kabul.
Urban participation in the election was unexpectedly high, but it is unclear to what extent rural voters were deterred by the Taliban, who condemned the vote, and what role state officials, including police, had in encouraging people to back a particular candidate.
KABUL: Afghan-Tajik high level officials signed five economic agreements under which any possible challenges faced by the two countries investors would be removed, an official said Sunday.
The agreements included, trade, transit, higher education, customs and insurance, water and energy supply, mines and petroleum, communication, transport, agriculture, health and so on, the ministry’s spokesman, Najibullah Amin said in a statement.
The spokesman quoted the minister of economy, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal as saying that his led delegation during its two day visit to Dushanbe, had discussed both countries’ traders challenges and pledged to be removed soon.
After signing the agreements, Tajik minister of transportation, Khairullah Asazada said his country would remain committed for cooperation with Afghanistan.
Alongside the economic tour, minister of economy, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal met with the Tajik President, Imam Ali Rahman and asked him for not withholding any efforts in cooperation between the two countries.
For his part, the Tajik President, Imam Ali Rahmanuf pledged to do more for tackling any challenges faced by the two countries traders and try his best to put the agreements into practice, as well as would take part in Nawrooz festival expected to be held in Kabul.
Four killed in landslide in northern Afghanistan: officials
KABUL: A landslide triggered by heavy rains and a small earthquake swept through two villages in northern Afghanistan killing four people and destroying around 100 houses, officials said Saturday.
The natural disaster occurred overnight in the Rustaq district of northern Takhar province, about 300 kilometres (190 miles) north-east of the capital Kabul, police spokesman Abdul Khalil Aseer said.
"Four civilians -- three men and a woman -- were killed as a result of landslide, heavy rains and (an) earthquake in two remote villages of Rustaq district," on the outskirt of northern Takhar province, he said.
According to the United States Geological Survey, a minor 4.1-magnitude quake struck northeast Afghanistan at 2:30 am local time (2220 GMT Friday) at a depth of 203 kilometres.
The death toll might increase as Afghan police forces head to the scene, Aseer said.
Sunatullah Taimoor, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar, confirmed the death toll.
"Around 100 houses were destroyed in last night's landslide," he said, adding residents had climbed to higher ground for safety.
Landslides sometimes occur during the spring rainy season in the country's mountainous north, with th flimsy mud houses built in the area often unable to withstand them.
For Afghan Journalists, Election Brings a Sense of National Duty
KABUL, Afghanistan — As the raucous news outlets of Afghanistan — and there are hundreds of them — have come into their own in recent years, they have taken to criticizing government officials and institutions with an enthusiasm that borders on glee. And despite attempts by the powerful to rein in reporters, much of the news media has thrived with an occasionally adversarial approach.
So it is a measure of the urgency that Afghans are feeling about their presidential election that even the country’s gadfly class has eased up on the criticism and taken on more of a cheerleader role for the political process.
It started with exhaustive coverage in the months before the voting last Saturday, with television channels broadcasting a barrage of discussions, debates and commentaries, and heavily emphasizing the importance of a high turnout by voters.
On Election Day and the days since, the focus has stayed on the positive. And though there has been much to be upbeat about — record turnout, little violence and fewer complaints — at times the trouble spots seem to have been deliberately played down.
Interviews with journalists here have borne that out. Many expressed a shared sense of national responsibility at a critical moment in Afghanistan’s history. And though some were skeptical about the candidates themselves, they also said that championing the election was an expression of hope for the country’s future.
There is also a quiet recognition that the future of their own industry, which was significantly bolstered by the influx of Western aid in recent years, is at risk.
“The survival of the local media depends on the survival of this transition,” said Mujib Mashal, an Afghan journalist who writes for the American magazines Time and Harper’s. “There is patriotism and nationalism, but there is also a realization that if this transition does not happen peacefully, then the media has no hope for the sort of freedom” it is enjoying now.
The stakes were made clear a week and a half before the election, when Taliban gunmen killed nine people at the Serena Hotel, among them a member of the Kabul press corps, Sardar Ahmad, along with his wife and two of their young children.
The attack shocked journalists here, and they issued a collective statement saying they would boycott coverage of all Taliban statements and news releases for 15 days. In that light, the election, which the Taliban had vowed to disrupt, represented a direct repudiation of the militants’ goals and methods — as did the way the news media decided to cover it.
“There were two reasons that Afghan journalists covered the Taliban side with a lot of caution,” said Danish Karokhel, the head of Pajhwok Afghan News, the country’s largest independent news agency. “One was the boycott of Taliban news following the brutal killing of Sardar Ahmad and his wife and children. The other was a request from journalists’ rights organizations and unions a day before the election to avoid reporting negative news.”
On Election Day, the desire among some reporters for a high turnout was so strong, particularly in dangerous areas of the country where participation was very low in the 2009 vote, that they said they deliberately held back on reporting about violence that might dissuade potential voters.
A radio journalist in Logar Province described how after a major attack at a polling site, some outlets withheld the news until voting was nearly over.
“The Afghan journalists separately made a collective decision that they would not report negative news on the Election Day,” the journalist said. “Not only negative news, but anything which could undermine the election process.”
Reporters in two other eastern provinces, Khost and Paktia, said they had similar motivations. “I think it was obvious that on the Election Day, the media was not impartial,” said the reporter who works in Paktia and who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of Taliban reprisals. “The people are tired of war, and they cling to any string of hope. We gave them that string of hope with our positive coverage.”
Behind the journalists’ sense of a responsibility to keep the election on track was also a recognition that they could have an influence on events — a remarkable development in a country with little history of press freedom.
These days, the Afghan news media has a wider reach than ever, as televisions have become more common and as more people have access to the Internet on their phones. News shows crowd the airwaves with investigative reports, policy discussions and relatively progressive programming in a country where many people hold deeply conservative values.
That power has been amplified since the presidential elections of 2009, as politicians began to recognize the potential of local news media exposure. In the 2009 race, television stations could not get the two leading contenders to have a public debate. This time, there were three televised debates featuring the top candidates, and they were watched by more than 12 million people, according to TOLOnews, which broadcast the debates.
“The broad coverage of the election process for the last three months played an important role in bringing awareness to people and encouraging them to participate in the election,” said Mr. Karokhel of the news agency Pajhwok.
In the prelude to the voting, presidential candidates eschewed interviews with the international news media to focus instead on local outlets, which have greater sway over Afghan voters.
“During the campaign I have been entirely focused on Afghanistan,” Ashraf Ghani, one of the candidates, said in a recent interview.
Some journalists said their advocacy role during the election was as much about news judgment as about emotion. They argued that while violence and corruption continually plague Afghanistan, the chance for millions of Afghans to choose their own leadership was much rarer, and a more valuable focus for their reporting.
“In one of our meetings, we had a conversation: Are we picking the next five days or the next five years?” said Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of TOLOnews, the largest television network in the country. “Are we going to go against the process and show that this is going to be a mess, or encourage the people to go out and vote and highlight the importance of it?”
He added, “What is more important in Afghanistan, a bomb going off somewhere, which happens every day, or millions of people who go out and vote?”
Kabul's Major Motion Picture: Cinema's Rebirth in Afghanistan
Cinemas in Afghanistan were shuttered under the Taliban. But now audiences, all-male, flock to them to watch the latest Bollywood movies. Photographer Jonathan Saruk captured the buildings and their patrons.
When the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, all forms of movies, television, and videos were outlawed, along with many other things, for everyone. Theaters were quickly abandoned, left to decay and sometimes destroyed. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they did more than just liberate the country from the Taliban’s rule. The country's cinemas also reopened.
In 2009, while photographing the Mr. Afghanistan body building competition at the Old Cinema Park in Kabul, 34-year old photographer Jonathan Saruk took note of the building hosting it. “It was really dark and really gritty and had a lot of character,” Saruk told The Daily Beast. “I became curious to see what it was like as a functioning movie theater.”
Over the next three years Saruk set out to capture the cinematic aspect in the daily lives of Kabul citizens compiling the moments that he captured for his first published book, The Forgotten Reel, partly funded by Kickstarter.
At the time of the Mr. Afghanistan competition, Saruk had already spent over half a year embedded with troops documenting the ongoing war efforts in Afghanistan. But he had grown tired of his daily routines and wanted to experience something different—he wanted to capture civilian life outside of the tightly controlled environment of military bases. “You only get to see so much when you’re embedded,” he described. “Your contact with the civilian population is very limited.”
“The collection of photographs,” Saruk stated in his Kickstarter video, “provides a window on cinema culture in Kabul and illuminates a side of Afghan life generally not seen from the media, which for years have saturated us with images of war.” The campaign surpassed its goal ($15,000) by over $8,000, with 205 backers.
Even with faulty projectors and seats that were falling apart, Afghans seemed very excited when the cinemas reopened.
While attendance is generally low during the week, on Fridays the crowds really begin to gather, creating an energetic and social environment, said Saruk. “People are yelling across the room, smoking cigarettes, talking on cell phones”—things people would never do here in the United States. But, that’s what makes the experience so unique.
The images that Saruk captured perfectly convey that essence. The song-and-dance numbers popularly associated with the Bollywood genre cause the spectators to actively participate, often times getting on stage to join in on the choreography. “I got some really great shots of these boys dancing. There’s a woman dancing on the screen and two boys dancing below with the music. It was really one of those ‘whoa’ moments.”
For the most part, people were okay with Saruk moving around and taking photos. Only once did he have someone confront him after he took their photo. The two men demanded that he delete them, which he did.
Attendees are most always men. Not once, in the dozens of visits that he made, did Saruk see a woman at the theater. “I got various responses,” Saruk said when asked why women didn’t visit the theaters. “Some people said it was because of security and some said that they simply preferred to watch films at home.”
The majority of the films being projected are of Indian or Pakistani origin. In the more traditional sense of Afghanistan, men’s contact with women is almost non-existent outside of the family until they are married. In public, women cover every inch of their body with fabric, leaving the most minimal skin showing. Even the exposed skin of women on public television is blurred out.
Bollywood films allow for skin and sexuality, which is a big departure from the more conservative Islamic culture. The man get riled up over the images of women that project onto the big screen, whistling and yelling at the flirtatious, skin and bust-showing female characters and cheering the leading man.
Capturing these moments Saruk “provides an alternative narrative to the life in the violence-plagued city, where going to the movies, for many, is an escape from the harsh reality outside.”