Sunday, November 1, 2009

Backcountry ballots

I recently returned from working in Afghanistan's northern Badakhshan province with New York Times staffer Sabrina Tavernise and Afghan colleague Sangar Rahimi. We worked on several pieces together, the first focusing on preparations for the upcoming Afghan presidential runoff election between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah. Please read Sabrina's entertaining story here.

Badakhshan is one of the most remote, unreachable provinces in the country--large, mountainous and rural. There is one paved road in the entire province, in the capital Faizabad. When Afghan election officials talk of winter weather possibly impeding the runoff in some places, they are likely talking about Badakhshan.

Few people have cars: most people travel on foot or by donkey. And it is donkeys that are employed to bring ballots to some of the most tucked-away communities, places deep in the wilderness with no roads at all. Helicopters are used to transport ballot boxes to the district centers, then election workers use donkeys to transport the boxes further in to the backcountry.


We met Ezatullah while working on another story in his district of Baharak. He is a caretaker of a school we visited several times. On one of our visits, he was listening to an election program on the radio. He came out to meet our car, then brought us back to the room where he lives next to the school.


The father of eight children said he planned to vote for Abdullah in the runoff election. In our unscientific poll, Abdullah had a commanding lead in the province. He perhaps owes some of his popularity in the region to his time working with famed Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud--Badakhshan was after all a front-line province during the mujahideen's battle against the Soviets.


A dated election advertisement in Faizabad encourages women to register to vote.

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