The 2009 presidential election is only a day away and Afghans are basking in the global media spotlight. The Taliban are staging spectacular attacks, aware that the violence will make international headlines and provide them with free publicity. Campaigners are driving up and down the country in vehicles covered in posters, wooing the population with the promise of a better future. Free lunches, a rare concept in Afghanistan, have become the rule these days as campaigners feed the poor in the hope of getting votes in return for pilau rice. The poor, in turn, should be forgiven for wishing every day were campaign day. Such charity, after all, is a rarity in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Democracy is apparently working small wonders in Afghanistan. Local newspapers quote the Qur’an as evidence that there is no contradiction between Islam and the principles of democracy. Presidential candidates invoke early Muslim history to show that the rule of the people is rooted in Muslim tradition. Debate instead of violence; citizenship instead of clientelism; nationhood instead of tribalism; all are recurrent phrases in articles revealing the desires of progressive Afghans for their country. The second presidential debate, aired live on national TV, included Hamid Karzai and was broadly interpreted as a sign that democracy is slowly taking root in Afghanistan. The cost of the election process: $221m. Democracy doesn’t come cheap but in a country where humans are forced to live in caves for want of a roof over their heads, the electoral pomp can seem morally questionable. [continued…]