2 Feb 2012

Hope on the streets of Kabul

They do have opinion polls in a land where people are more used to being shot at, bombed, intimidated, ripped-off – than actually consulted about anything. And they show interesting things. Today there’s one making headlines here which shows that 80% of Afghans think the new Afghan National Police Force isn’t up to the job.

The main reaction from Kabulis seems to be: “Eh? Only 80 percent? That’s got to be wrong.”

So, with democracy in the forefront of our minds we decided to ask Afghans a simple question:

“When the Americans leave Afghanistan – do you think there will be war or peace?”

From the outset even the question is significant. To most Afghans all foreign soldiers are Americans. It’s a sensible assumption. One: because most are. Two: without the US there would be no war or foreign occupation of their land.

So first off, to buy a nice big whiteboard and a couple of marker pens. Then a quick test to see whether these things function in driving snow. I can exclusively reveal that they do, wonderfully well.

Then, off to the gates of Kabul University. Within moments they were lining up to put their tick up for war or peace. At first the peace vote ran away with it, but as time went by the war faction gradually caught up.

“There will be war,” said one student, “our history shows that when foreigners leave our country all the diffeent ethnic groups struggle for power and money and there is a fight.”

No points for optimism. One hundred percent for historical accuracy.

But plenty more saw it differently. “We have learned lessons of the past, ” said one, “I think there will be peace.”

We tried hard to get a gender balance, but this being Afghanistan it was hard – even here- to get any women to vote, though some eventually did. It was impossible to get any of them to explain why they had voted for war or peace.

In the end though, in drving snow, those believing there would be peace after the foreigners leave were in the majority – but only just.

So was there something odd about Kabul University students? Well nobody could claim they are typical Afghans. So we decided to get down to the bazaar and try things out there.

Actually that’s not really true. We decided to call it a day, get back in the warm from the blizzard and go the next day when the weather would have cleared.

Down at the bazaar it was all an instant hit and in seconds a crowd had gathered. With no security this may or may not be a good thing. Anyhow, everyone was keen to vote and here the result may surprise many. If not overhwhelming, the vast majority here felt there would be peace – not war – after NATO pulls out at the end of 2014.

One man though put his tick against war and then, carefully wrote “looting” next to his cross.

How typical any of this is Рwho knows? It was anything  but scientific and we do not know if the results would be different outside Kabul. What about in a peaceful province like Badakhshan or Bamiyan? Or would you get a very different result in Kunar, Helmand or Kandahar where the fighting continues?

We don’t know. But on this quick sampling of people who rarely get to have their say, there is at least hope on the streets of Kabul.

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