- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

CHARIKAR, Afghanistan — Fears that intimidation and social pressure would limit Afghans’ voting options in Saturday’s landmark election proved groundless at the home of Haroon Bayani here in “warlord country,” an hour’s drive north of the capital, Kabul.

Mr. Bayani’s cousin Ameer voted for Masooda Jalal, the only female presidential candidate, who ran on a social-justice platform. His grandfather voted for Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed interim president, as did his cousin Waheedullah. Another cousin voted for Younus Qanooni, the local favorite and a former top aide to the slain anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Masood.

Most impressively, no one in their old-fashioned house with its high adobe walls had the slightest hesitation in discussing their choices. Rather, there was much good-natured banter and some teasing of Mr. Bayani, 24, who had failed to register and couldn’t vote.

Like most inhabitants of the Shomali plain, residents of this village five miles northeast of Charikar, the Parwan provincial capital, are Tajiks — Sunni Persian-speakers, like Mr. Qanooni and Mr. Masood, who was assassinated shortly before the September 11 attacks on the United States.

For years, their hamlet was on or near the front line between Mr. Masood’s forces and the Taliban militia. On several occasions, it was occupied by Arab militiamen fighting alongside the Taliban, presumably al Qaeda forces led by Osama bin Laden.

Election day dawned dim and cool as an autumn dust storm blew across the southern foothills of the towering Hindu Kush mountains. By early afternoon, heavy gray clouds were dumping an early snow atop Shomali’s mountainous northern backdrop.

On the plains, scattered showers fell through the blowing dust to create a phenomenon best described as a mud storm. Long and uncharacteristically orderly lines of men and women formed outside polling stations in the region’s villages, as voters braved the conditions.

At Mr. Bayani’s home, he and his kin entertained company with the region’s famed seedless white grapes in a carpeted guest room.

“Mrs. Jalal is the best, from the standpoint of law and justice,” insisted Ameer, whose outspokenness flew in the face of warnings from Western analysts that warlords and tribal leaders would dictate the vote.

“What would the Americans do if Qanooni won?” a frowning Mr. Bayani mused. “Would they leave Afghanistan?”

“Karzai built us a road, and he wants to do something for ordinary people,” countered Waheedullah. “He’s a good man.”

“The Turks built the road — and they haven’t paved it yet,” Ameer shot back. “Karzai is not a good man. He and his Cabinet are stirring up ethnic rivalry.”

Ameer’s complaint reflected a widely felt resentment in this region against Mr. Karzai, who has forced former mujahideen such as Mr. Qanooni out of key posts and replaced them with so-called “technocrats,” who recently returned from exile.

Most of the technocrats are ethnic Pashtuns, like Mr. Karzai and the Taliban leaders before him. The most prominent of the mujahideen leaders who fought the Soviets in the 1980s, on the other hand, are from other ethnic groups such as Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Mr. Karzai and other technocrats have complained repeatedly that the mujahideen are “worse than the Taliban.”

To the dismay of many former mujahideen, Mr. Karzai has encouraged former Taliban to make their peace and join the government.

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