Page last updated at 01:34 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 02:34 UK

Aggrieved villagers wary of Afghan vote

By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Sherzad district, Nangarhar province

Poster in Afghanistan
The violence that has blighted Afghan life has not spared Nangarhar

As Afghanistan heads towards presidential elections, residents of the district of Sherzad, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, have witnessed a sudden spurt in violence.

Most of Afghanistan's 28 million people live in the villages, hamlets and valleys of remote districts like Sherzad. It is areas such as this which will decide the outcome of the presidential election on 20 August.

One summer night earlier this year, a group of armed Taliban militants raided a local school for boys and girls in Kodi Khel village. The militants forced guards to vacate the school compound and then blew it up.

Although there were no casualties, the Taliban succeeded, to a large extent, in creating a wave of fear in the area.

"We had warned the government about the possibility of such an attack long ago," said a village elder, requesting anonymity as he feared the Taliban may target him in retaliation for speaking out.

"If you don't have girls and boys in schools, if you don't have police patrols on the streets, the government and the Afghans lose and the Taliban wins," he said.


One local official is not too shy to admit that people in this area have been caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and Western forces.

Afghan voters on forthcoming elections

"Many Afghans have been killed in recent years," he said, also asking not to be named.

"The violence has generated a feeling of antipathy among the Afghans, driving some of the locals into the hands of the Taliban."

Seven years ago, when Afghanistan conducted its first democratic election, residents of Sherzad walked for hours across the mountains to reach polling stations. Threats from landmines, suicide attacks and firing by the Taliban did not deter them from participating in the election then.

"We thought the election would lead to security and development of our villages. It was worth the risk," said Wali Shah, a resident of Kodi Khel, who was among the millions of Afghans who cast their ballots at that time.

Seven years after that election life is still fraught with hardship, Mr Shah said.

Security for Afghan citizens is also the biggest election issue in the neighbouring village of Pitlaw.

Many Afghan intellectuals have been killed in Pitlaw, schools have been destroyed and irrigation canals and bridges blown up.

"Some changes have indeed taken place over the past seven years," said Khan Shah, a resident of Pitlaw.

"But security, roads and medical facilities remain only on paper. We want security."

Corruption is another issue bothering villagers.

Last winter, an earthquake devastated much of Sherzad. Thirty two people were killed, more than 200 injured, and many houses and buildings were reduced to rubble.

Sayed Marjan, 30, of Kodi Khel, survived the calamity but lost six members of his family.


"I lost my family and my home. But the food, medicine and blankets sent as relief materials by Kabul and the world never reached me," he said. "This is shameful."

"I am not going to name anyone, but whoever wins this election will have to give us security and freedom from corruption."

Village elder Ahmed Khan says that local people were promised many things during the last election. "But we got nothing of it."

Similar feelings of resentment against the government in Kabul are seemingly everywhere in Kodi Khel.

"Food and blankets meant for us have been stolen by a local warlord. This is why I am not interested in this election," said an angry Sayed Marjan.

"Where was the government when I needed it? I have already told my village elder that I will not vote this time."

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