Despite Karzai’s last minute pull out from the televised debates between the top three candidate – he is still presumed the front runner in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections. Tolo TV held the debates and Karzai claimed that his last minute refusal to take part was due to the debates exclusion of all the presidential candidates. Yet with a whopping 41 candidates are taking part, it was hardly sensible. It would take the entire program just to get the introductions out of the way! And so Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani debated the failed Afghan policies on either side of an empty podium to highlight Karzai’s absence.
Meanwhile, Karzai’s controversial running mate, Mohammed Qasim Fahim’s convoy was attacked in Kunduz province. Not exactly unexpected with the rise in random roadside violence and scare tactics leading up to the election, but the location of the attack is surprising. The north has been seeing an upsurge in roadside attacks disrupting its relative peacefulness and safety. Kunduz especially has seen an upswing as the Taliban work to disrupt foreign supply routes, and attempt to scare voters away from the polls.
Luckily no one in the convoy was killed, and amazingly only a cameraman travelling in the group was injured. Ethnically Tajik, Fahim helps to diversify Karzai’s Pashtun ticket by representing the two largest ethnic groups. While he fought with the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban in 2001, Fahim has been tagged by the Human Rights Watch for his sordid history of murder and corruption throughout the last 30 years of war.
Aside from the violence upswing, this is an exciting time to be in Afghanistan. Several friends are heading over (mostly photojournalists) to cover the events and I’m jealous of their front row ticket to the impending changeover. While Karzai may very well win a second term despite his inability to stem the Taliban resurgence since his election in 2001, Abdullah and Ghani are giving him a run for his money. Focusing on failed policies and broad charges of corruption, there is a chance of change as long as voters are allowed to cast their ballots.
Why should we, as Westerners care which direction Afghanistan goes? Many reasons. Beyond my personal love of this country and its resilient citizens, is the international communities investment of money and lives in an attempt to provide security for this country to develop as an independent and free country. Our focus with Mountain to Mountain is education, knowing that an educated society can best make the choices needed for a country to grow and flourish. Education levels the playing field between ethnicity, class and gender, ensuring that all citizens have a voice. Education creates a space for dialogue and debate without weapons but instead with ideas. An educated society can set its own course, in a way that protects and ensures the rights of ALL of its citizens.
I return after the elections to take on the next steps in our own small efforts in this changing region. We will set up a computer lab at a girls secondary school in Kabul in order to study the benefits of computer education and computer literacy in furthering the education of girls continuing on to high school and college. We will also make the next steps in tackling our larger projects in building schools and bringing education to women’s prisons. As the country continues to move forward, so do we.