Page last updated at 23:51 GMT, Saturday, 25 July 2009 00:51 UK

Afghans sceptical about elections

The bus on the way to Kabul from Kunduz
The bus on the way to Kabul from Kunduz

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary takes a bus ride in northern Afghanistan to gauge the mood of the people ahead of the presidential elections in August.

The dawn air is unusually crisp in Kunduz, one of Afghanistan's northernmost provinces, as I wait beneath a flimsy structure for the bus to Kabul to arrive.

Eventually, the German-made bus appears silently in the distance, steadily making its way towards our congregation of 140-odd travellers.

The bus shudders to a halt. The driver, Mohammad Tayab, 38, disembarks and begins to greet us.

It takes some time for the rather large and diverse cluster of Afghans waiting with me to board to pack themselves into the vehicle. As I glance around me I can pick out a wide variety of ethnicities: Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras.

Rising corruption

Alongside local Kunduzis, I meet men and women who have travelled from as far as the Kishim district of the northeeastern province of Badakhshan, and others who hail from the neighbouring province of Takhar.

kabul kunduz highway
The route from Kabul to Kunduz is long

I take a seat next to Tayab, the driver. On my other side is Hassina Nasiray, a midwife from Badakhshan.

As the bus meanders through jagged mountain passes, I ask Mr Tayab, "Aren't you afraid of the Taliban when you drive through these mountains?"

"I am more scared of the bad roads!" declares the tall, bearded driver.

Without any reservations, another passenger, Sufi Goal, makes his opinion heard: "Not to mention the corruption and insecurity. The Taliban is only one of our many concerns."

Haji Mullah, 69, another traveller, pipes in eagerly: "The Afghan government promised us roads, clinics, and security, but nothing happened."

Mr Mullah goes on to state that the sitting incumbent, President Hamid Karzai, will have a tough time defending his government against sceptical voters like himself and his daughter.

Before long, those sitting in the front rows began a gentle debate.

"Hamid Karzai is not a very bad president," says Sayed Daud.

"But corruption is fast becoming a serious issue in Afghan politics. Nothing gets done in the country without greasing palms," he continues.

Losing faith

At this, Goal Pacha, a trader from Kunduz shares some anecdotal evidence relating a story in which local officials did not allow him to open his own soap factory because he refused to pay them "bakhshis", the Afghan word for "bribe".

Goal Pacha
Goal Pacha bemoans rising corruption in the country

"Everyone knows how much corruption there is. Most of our officials became owners of palatial houses and luxury vehicles soon after getting appointed. This is not a coincidence," Mr Pacha observes.

I glance to my left, noting that Hassini Nasiray, the midwife from Badakhshan, is sitting quietly, seemingly uninterested in the conversation in which her fellow passengers are so engaged.

Suddenly, she erupts into a passionate tirade at the word "health".

"I have lost faith in the government because of the high infant mortality rate in my province. When Mr Karzai came to power, he listed health among his government's top priorities. But, it turned out to be an empty promise. I voted enthusiastically in our last elections, but this time, I can't say I will vote at all."

"People want to live in peace. They want to vote because they don't want to suffer anymore. I want to stop babies from dying and I will vote for anyone who will help me stop it," said Ms Nasiray, a mother of five children.

President Hamid Karzai has a mixed legacy - for some he is a national hero, a man who brought some measure of stability and development to a war-ravaged country.

As the bus nears Kabul, it becomes clear to me that many voters are sitting on the fence; they have not seen enough evidence that the Karzai administration is interested in changing their lives, but at the same time, trustworthy alternatives appear few and far between.

Hamid Karzai and the 40 other presidential hopefuls face an unconvinced electorate.

Mr Tayab, however, offers a different take.

"Peace is a distant and elusive dream. This country was destroyed for 30 years with war after war. It will take more than two elections and presidents to fix it," he says, as he struggles with the reception of the ancient radio on the bus' dashboard.

"Let's enjoy some music - no bus trip is complete without a song!"

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