A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Riots, rockets and an election

That's the name of the game here lately.  An important nationwide election looms today, in which all seats of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga (or lower house of parliament) are up for sale...oops, I mean grabs!  Framing the election season, which features more than 2500 candidates jockeying for just 249 seats, was the fallout from Quran burnings in the U.S., even though that pastor in Florida never went through with it.  Whether there were imitation burnings in the States (I don't even know), or old footage was aired as if it was new, or rumors simply gained traction that it happened anyway...there were a number of highly-charged demonstrations the past few days. 

Some turned into deadly riots, which isn't hard to see coming when you factor in the ingredients: A "grave insult to all of Islam" is reported across the media, and sometimes in such a way as to suggest that large numbers of Americans are taking part in the desecration; word of mouth spreads fast and furious that it is sanctioned by the U.S. Government, by NATO, by ISAF, and that we're probably burning copies behind our blast walls; insurgent groups and criminal gangs always looking for an opportunity stoke the flames however they can; and oh yes, an election said to be fraudulent already -- by those who want no democracy here and by quite a few ordinary Afghans -- rapidly approaches as all this unfolds.

Just one of the many incidents of the past few days...
Two killed in Afghan protest over Quran burning plan

The polls open in just 6 hours, as of this writing.  And for the third time in just the last few months, most of the country is on edge...hopeful for a collective step forward (usually defined as "no major attacks") while fearful that instability will rule the day.  Or just as likely, and more troublesome, perhaps most are resigned to the idea that their votes don't much matter, and that neither really does the national assembly.  That's the sentiment I hear most often expressed in conversation with Afghans.  The people are pretty disgruntled with rampant corruption in their government, for the most part -- though exactly how many want to do something about that remains highly in question, as there is still a great deal of often-puzzling loyalty to the heavyweights in charge. 

Some cool photographs here...
Perspectives on Afghanistan's parliamentary elections

Still, the election season has been incredibly interesting.  For months, the signs along roadsides have taken over, as more than 600 candidates are running for seats in Kabul alone.  Ranging from placards to billboards, and in some cases on giant banners overhanging main thoroughfares, there are hundreds of plastered faces staring out at you in a stern manner at any given time.  Facial recognition is important, as are the symbols associated with various candidates (Vote for the three lions! -seriously), since the population is somewhere around 20% literate.  Television commercials, and there have been tons, generally feature a version of the hand-out card on the screen with a voice-over urging you to vote for the good candidate in question.

Check out the photo on this's like some of mine which won't post...
Afghan election: Taliban not the only culprits of campaign violence

So who are these candidates?  They range from former(?) warlords to sons/daughters of past heroes, some clearly going for the traditional vote -- and looking like village elders in Kunar -- while some seek the more Western-minded youth on their side.  There are ethnic party hardliners, there are grandmothers, there are probably hundreds of candidates secretly backed by their local insurgents (who officially oppose elections)...and there are patriots who truly want to take out the trash and start with a fresh legislature.  Allegations abound already of fixing by incumbents, particularly those close to President Karzai, but there's still a giant sense of the unknown.  It should be an interesting day.  Here's one of the more interesting candidates...

Trust me, this is an exception to the usual appearance!  She's garnered quite a bit of attention, as you might guess...
Sisters, sprinters run for the elections

My feeling is that like the Kabul Conference in July, and the Peace Jirga before it, the election will be pulled off with only relatively minor least in the large cities.  Both of those were anticipated events with high international profiles, inviting a statement of some sort by insurgents looking to de-legitimize the government.  But the outlying districts will likely be another story.  The army and police have given the assurances they can, confident that a strong security presence will encourage voting...

Caption I'd like to attach the link's top photo: One American wonders what's going on, as one Afghan gives the press hell ("And another thing...!"), my man Azimi gives the evil eye (or the stinkeye?), and the dude on the end thinks, "Do I smell lamb? Yep, I smell lamb. Time for lunch, boys."

(This is a blatant plug of my own story.)
Election security will be adequate, say Afghan generals

* Just before I began writing this, a slight earthquake actually shook Kabul about two hours ago.  I was running at the time in the darkened city camp and barely felt it -- I thought more likely that a detonation had happened somewhere -- but hordes of people staggered sleepy-eyed out of their rooms.  The real notification for me came in the form of little birds, who pack the trees by the thousands and chatter away all evening and half the night.  They came pouring out of their trees, making such a crazy racket that I thought to myself, (no foolin') clearly something just happened.  It wasn't until I ran by someone who asked, "Did you feel the earthquake?", that I knew what happened.  As my director just posted on Facebook a few moments ago, let's hope it's not some kind of election day omen...

No damage reported after moderate earthquake jolts Afghanistan

* Follow-on note: I did actually hear the rocket, an hour or so after posting this.  Now that is a greater concern than a deep tremor of the earth.  But the fact that it gets reported as news, and that I am posting about it, just goes to demonstrate how safe Kabul is.  The last time I was deployed, I didn't even bother writing about rockets landing in bases in the it's big news if one strikes anywhere in the vast capital.  But that's the juxtaposition of safety in this city vs that which passes for it in the rest of the country, the byproduct of super-tight security on all approaches and beefed-up policing inside.  The upside is a relative oasis of calm apart from the dangers of other provinces.  The downside is a return to the "Kingdom of Kabul", where government and commerce hold sway here, but everything beyond gets further unstable all the time.

Afghan voting off to rocky start

(Note to Ms. Vogt: I'd hardly characterize one rocket, in a city that has been besieged by storms of rockets, as a "rocky start"...silly media, always super-concerned if it's their safe zone of Kabul...)


Blogger Anthony said...

Your writing truly captures the spirit of the moment or collective moments. I'm amazed as usual. Thanks and keep safe my man.

September 18, 2010 at 2:51 AM  
Anonymous Slappy said...

The fact that women are even "allowed" to run for office in the 'Stan these days signals a wonderful and tremendous paradigm shift. The fact that reports of someone burning a book halfway around the world has predictably resulted in deadly violence signals that the "old world" is still very much the current world.

Keep up the great work, bro.

September 18, 2010 at 11:49 AM  

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