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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 October, 2004, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Can fair elections be held in Afghanistan?
Everything ready for the elections
The United Nations and the Afghan government have expressed satisfaction with the security measures in place for Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday.

The UN says that despite limitations, it believes conditions exist for a good poll.

The Afghan Interior Minister said he expected more than one-hundred-thousand security personnel to be deployed to provide security during the ballot.

Guerrillas loyal to the ousted Taleban movement have threatened to attack anyone taking part in the vote.

Can free and fair elections be held in Afghanistan? What are the main challenges for this election? Will this process in Afghanistan have an impact in the way American foreign policy is perceived?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I believe that Afghanistan will only be able to gain fair elections is when they not only maximise security during the elections but also allow voters to chose any candidate they want to.
Kunni Khan, Pakistan

The votes can not be held freely while the powerful northern commanders still have guns in their hands
A Jabaar Achakzai, Kandahar, Afghanistan

The issue should not be whether the elections will be fair according to Western standards, but that elections are actually taking place. Indeed, any expression of democracy is long overdue and this completely validates the US removal of the Taleban regime.
Angelo Morata, Chicago, IL, USA

Elections in a country where the president fears to leave the confines of Kabul? So technically this is the presidential election of Kabul, not Afghanistan. While the rest of the country is still ruled by warlords who thrive on the opium crop. Elections? democracy?
Ash, Toronto, Canada

Why do I get the feeling that there are people out there who don't want these elections to take place, simply to spite the US?
Matt, Orlando, FL

This is definitely a first big step. Suppose the election is fair, I suspect how new leaders will digest their powers and be fair to people who elected them. I wish it turns out positive.
Sangam Dhruva, USA

Fair elections in Afghanistan? If you can't have them in the US what hope is left for the poor Afghanis?
Jimmy Imbriani, Athens, Greece

The majority of Afghan people have chosen to move on and leave behind their tragic past. 10 million people registering for the upcoming election is a proof of that. Therefore, yes I believe that the election in Afghanistan will reflect the will of the people and satisfy the national urge for reconstruction and a stable government. Karzai is the only unifying figure in Afghanistan and he will be elected. I request people to not confuse the Afghan election with their own anti-American/Bush sentiment.
Wali Aziz, Toronto, Canada

No, US will make sure that they will put a puppet government as it is now. The election is just a game show to the world.
Zakir, India

How ridiculous to denounce elections because they are not perfect!
Andrea, NY, USA
How ridiculous to denounce elections because they are not perfect! How ridiculous to discount elections just because the Americans are involved! There is a consistent split in opinions. The more optimistic believe in the opportunity for a self-directed future free of tyrannical rule. The more pessimistic believe that these elections can't work, that everything Western is bad. One position stems from the belief that one can take responsibility for oneself. The other neither takes responsibility nor shows any introspection or imagination. Give me flawed elections over Taliban rule any day!
Andrea, NY, USA

How can fair elections be held in Afghanistan when the warlords still rule the day?
Buster Lewis , Bronx, USA

I keep hearing that any election is better than no election. We all know the US isn't going to turn it over to anyone they don't own. Hamid Karzai by a landslide! Do you think elections in Iraq will be fair either? Of course not, again it will be the puppet we already have. A bad election is a bad election and has no redeeming function, nor is it better than nothing.
David, Portland, USA

I wish my country had the democratic fervour I see in Afghanistan. Terrorists and US-haters (including commentators on this board) can do their worst. The Afghans seem to have a definite idea of how they want their country to move forward and nothing can stop them with the spirit they show.
A Sweeting, Leicester, UK

Opium production has skyrocketed in Afghanistan during the past year. The figures are devastating but seldom mentioned in the media. That says a whole lot about the growing power of criminal cartels in that country. No doubt organized crime will be able to influence the outcome of the elections.
Topi Lappalainen, Helsinki, Finland

According to US/West democracy is if they can puppet show the leader of that country or not. If he/she is not puppet than it is not democracy. I am sick of this western hypocrisy for democracy.
Maria , Sweden

The Afghans themselves are hopeful and willing to invest in the opportunity to establish democracy
LR, Atlanta, US
I stopped listening to the complaints of the anti-US crowd the instant they callously trashed the Afghan and Iraqi attempt at elections. How cynical do you have to be to ridicule people who are facing real danger to cast a vote because it would unravel some of your personal political ideology? The Afghans themselves are hopeful and willing to invest in the opportunity to establish democracy. Would it really kill you to cut them some slack?
LR, Atlanta, US

Hell will freeze over before anyone can call this a fair and free election. Democracy cannot be forced on a Nation.
Ron Marshall, South Clayton, Australia

Free and Fair? I don't think so! Who will win? Another American puppet.
Susannah, UAE

This poor nation never had a chance to decide and can't have a chance to decide under US occupation. US made Karzai opposition leader (without a party), interim leader and now for sure elected President. Karzai in UN general assembly now talks of freedom of speech of press. Karzai has forgotten that his soldier shot Kabul University Students just after he become interim Leader. The students' peaceful demonstration for water, food and electricity turned into deaths and injuries. Karzai has forgotten that since US invasion of Afghanistan thousands of Afghans are killed by B-52 bombers.
Habibullah, LA, USA

Since the US put the Taliban in power, I have no faith in any sort of election in Afghanistan. But they have to start somewhere. I suppose that even a corrupt, US backed puppet elected by the Afghan people is better than no elections at all, and a corrupt, US backed puppet in power. Perhaps someday the US may even let democracy into these countries and stop trying to fix the elections.
Jennifer, Paris, France

The right to vote may be a gesture to us but it seems quite important to the citizens of Afghanistan.
MRF, San Francisco Bay Area
I am curious how 10 million people could be merely putting on a show? That is the number the BBC has said have already registered. Half of the adult population of Afghanistan appears to think that at least turning up to vote is worth the effort. I think we may be missing the point here in the West - the right to vote and the freedom to do so may be a gesture to us but it seems quite important to the citizens of Afghanistan. I support their ability to do this and hope that it is a step in the direction of national autonomy, human rights and rights for women.
MRF, San Francisco Bay Area

Were the first Philippine, Indonesian or Russian elections fair? Not by most standards. However, they were preferable to that which came before them and with support and pressure from the international community each successive election will lead us closer to something we would consider fair. Congratulations to the Afghans for having to courage to start from where they are instead of waiting for utopian conditions before they attempt an election.
Gerald Joyce, Chicago, USA

Yes, fair elections can be held. Why couldn't they be? The country seems, for the most part, secure, the people want to vote and freedom will always win. And let's not forget, America did not start this war. The terrorists did.
Charlie, Bloomington, Illinois, United States

The democratisation of any state is a rocky transitional road. To think that free and fair elections can be held this time is perhaps naive, but at least Afghanistan has taken its first steps down the road to being a fully fledged democracy.
Sarah, Tokyo, Japan

Being attacked by another country does not obligate us to ensure they install a democracy
Anthony, USA
Many contributors here seem more confused by Bush's rhetoric than the average American. The war in Afghanistan was never about democracy to Americans. The former government of that country was hosting and sharing resources with an organization that killed 3,000 Americans in an unprovoked attack. That was a clear act of war to which any country would have responded. Americans neither started nor wanted this war.

Blaming the US for the lack of democracy in Afghanistan ignores the obvious fact that Afghanistan has never been a democracy. Being attacked by another country does not obligate us to ensure they install a democracy; it simply gives us the right to defend ourselves. Afghans must decide whether to follow the warlords or an elected leader. Americans do not feel any responsibility for the decision as it is not ours to make.
Anthony, USA

Fair election! No way. But which country, in the world, has had a fair election? Karzai will win, no doubt. I think he is the right man for the new era in Afghanistan and a well-informed person who can pave the road for unity and prosperity of Afghanistan with the help of his neighbouring, and the European countries including the USA.
Mirzada, Hanover, Germany

All I see are criticisms... who is brave enough to offer some solutions? At least the US is trying while the rest of the world has been wringing there hands.
John, US

Afghanistan and Iraq are quite different chapters. I think elections must be held in Iraq but US should not try to back anybody as puppet!
Kazi Firoz, Kosice, Slovakia.

This may not be a perfect election but at least it gets the ball rolling
Tim H, UK
The elections are a sign of true hope for the Afghan people. This is evinced by the many men and women who risk life and limb just to register to vote. They are an inspiration to the world and an affront to the cynics and hatemongers such as those that dominate this website. As far as how US foreign policy is perceived, those who hate us will hate us regardless of the outcome of this event.
roger, Naperville, IL USA

Nothing good in life is easy. This may not be a perfect election but at least it gets the ball rolling. Once the system is up and running then the cynics can put their own candidates up for election next time. Rome wasn't built in a day. I only wish more people would support the democratic process instead of bad mouthing it. Don't listen to the cynics - they never do anything positive themselves.
Tim H, UK

After 23 years of war in Afghanistan, the expectation of fair and transparent elections is difficult, but still we are optimistic. There was no expectation for successful registration but more than 11 millions Afghans registered themselves. This is a great success. so we are hopeful for a fair election. Let's look at the campaign before election - we have found thousands of posters of other candidates in Kandahar city, even the posters of Hamid Karzai were less than some other candidates. This shows democracy, transparency and freedom of ideas.
Shahwali Popal, Kandahar, Afghanistan

Yes, this election will solve all our problems and we are optimistic about it, but we are worried about the warlords. They can cause insecurity during election day, But now we are not worried about the Taleban because now they are nothing to us. People here are very happy and excited about this election - now our future is linked to it and we all pray for a better tomorrow.
Aryan Safi, Kandahar Afghanistan

Organizing an election which will meet all international standards in a country like Afghanistan after about 25 years of war is impossible. It will legitimise the next government to some extent. I am sure Karzai will win, because he is the only candidate who has a strong backing of the people from all parts of the country and the international community. He is the only one that people can trust, who can shorten the hands of the warlords from the government.
Hedayatullah Najib Afghanmal, Logar, Afghanistan

Karzai is unpopular and ineffectual, but chances are he'll easily win the election. The rules drawn up by the electoral commission he appointed guarantee victory for the incumbent. The 30-day campaign is too short, considering that broadcast media doesn't reach most of the population, and that travel outside Kabul is extremely risky for those without helicopters. Also, Karzai's campaign is bankrolled by the USA. It may be a "democracy", but it will be a puppet regime with America pulling the strings.
Marc Brett, Teddington, UK

I believe that Afghanistan will be shone on by the sun of peace after elections.
Abdul Malik Khan Saber Achakzai, Pak-Afghan tribal area of Chaman

Sorry, but I think the only winner will be the American's favourite - that is Hamid Karzai
Ali Khan, Lahore, Pakistan

Free and fair elections? In an American occupied country? Sorry, but I think the only winner will be the American's favourite - that is Hamid Karzai. No-one can win without American backing. No-one in Iraq and no-one in Afghanistan. They want a pro-American government in. That's the main reason why they attacked the poor country in the first place and killed thousand of innocent people in the name of so-called freedom.
Ali Khan, Lahore, Pakistan

We are praying for Afghans to bring powerful elected government to end the civilian war and return all Afghans back to Afghanistan. I am very, very confident that this presidential election will bring good tidings for all Afghans.
Ahmad Zahir Wahdat, Dubai, UAE

If we want a peaceful, prosperous and progressive country we need unity. We must forget the past and we must think about the future.
Ahmad Faraz, Jalalabad, Afghanistan
In the present situation the Afghan people should trust Karzai because he seems more sincere than the other candidates and I hope he will win this election and hope that this election will be held in peace. This election needs full security because Afghanistan is not in peace despite Karzai. Afghanistan lost the ethnic unity and if Karzai loses this election the country once again will face war. If we want a peaceful, prosperous and progressive country we need unity. We must forget the past and we must think about the future.
Ahmad Faraz, Nangarhar, Jalalabad

From BBCPersian.com: Although there are a lot of challenges in the way of the election, the grounds are prepared for it, in spite of the fact that, for some people, their trust has been misused by the warlords in some parts of the country. Considering the facilities which have been provided by the international community for elections, this is a golden opportunity for the Afghan people.
Cyrus Badakhshani, Kabul, Afghanistan

Sure, yes. We may be poor, illiterate and taken hostage by the warlords, but it is also a fact that we as Afghans do whatever we feel is better for our country. And, this is the spirit right now among the common people.
Maiwand Majboor, Kabul, Afghanistan

No I don't think fair elections can be held in Afghanistan because rebels still control a large part of the country. Also, it is unbelievable that NATO, with all its might and power, can only sent a few thousand troops. America should take a more active role in insuring that enough troops are send to ensure safe and fair elections since it is they who started the war with Afghanistan. They should at least have the courtesy to finish the job they started.
Robert, Montreal, Canada

This election is a joke and is only done to please the Americans so they can claim to have brought democracy to the country.
Willy Van Damme, Dendermonde, Belgium

After "gloomy days" aiming to an uncertain future, we Afghans are now in a position to grasp a very bright future
Mohammad Hanif Sufizada, Laghman, Afghanistan
After "gloomy days" aiming to an uncertain future, we Afghans are now in a position to grasp a very bright future by giving the very first step of democracy- election. Two decades of war have damaged our country and as a result we lost the very essence of our life. Living in exile for over two decades and aiming to an uncertain future, I was bored and had always been yearning for a country of our own which should be blessed with an Islamic and democratic essence.

I was dreaming of a country where I could continue my education, where we all Afghans live in a peaceful environment irrespective of ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional discrimination, where we all Afghans work day and night for the sole purpose of bringing our country to the brink of development and prosperity and the last but not the least in a country through which I could proudly say "I am an Afghan". Having registered as a voter for the first democratic elections, my vote will go for the one who live up to my expectations and that of other millions of Afghans.
Mohammad Hanif Sufizada, Laghman, Afghanistan

I do live in Norway, but I love my country Afghanistan more then anything. I hope that this presidential election is going to work. But people should vote for someone who really wants to work for the people of Afghanistan. People must be careful this time.
Zarmina, Drammen, Norway

I am very happy that the people of Afghanistan for the first time are going to elect a president. All the people want is peace and security. And take the weapons off the holders.
Farooq Niazi, London, UK

From BBCPersian.com: I work in a charity organisation and I regularly visit such regions as Baghlan, Badakhshan and Bamiyan and talk to the people there. I can see that how much our people are under the influence of regional warlords. The people cannot even express their views freely, let alone cast their vote in the ballot boxes without their permission! The second issue is that we witness bombings and explosions everywhere and if one of these incidents happened during the voting, people would have no choice but to stay at home and not to vote.
Dr Mohammad Shafiq, Kabul, Afghanistan

I hope the elections will end peacefully, the majority of our people including myself will vote for President Karzai since he is the only figure we can trust among all the 17 candidates. The only fear I have is that even if he wins the warlords and the killers of our innocent people, using the name of Mujahideen, will never sit calm. They will try whatever they could to interrupt peace and to prevent losing their powers.
Norya, Kabul, Afghanistan

Afghan people believe that the president of Afghanistan for the coming five years is already selected by the powerful countries.
Sherzai, Kabul, Afghanistan
Afghan people believe that the president of Afghanistan for the coming five years is already selected by the powerful countries. Most of Afghans get the voting cards because they were thinking they may sell it during voting. I am sure less than 60% of Afghans will join the voting. Any how it is a new step that we are going to pass it, hope to be calm
Sherzai, Kabul, Afghanistan

Democracy can not solve the problems in Afghanistan. It cannot unite all ethnic backgrounds. The answer for Afghanistan is Political Islam. The Khilafah is the only political system that can unite all Muslims together.
Amir, London, UK

Hamid Karzai is honest, diplomat, educated, good Muslim, young and has international support. He can bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.
Walishah Tabib, Kandahar, Afghanistan

No! Reasons: fear and intimidation.
Colin Hart, Purcell, Ok. US

Draconian drug laws lead to draconian states like Afghanistan. The only way to help Afghanistan is for everyone to stop using drugs, or decriminalise and regulate them. We like to blame our leaders for bad foreign policy. But it is bad domestic policy that we must change.
Anonymous, Motown, USA

We need to start from somewhere
Yama, Edinburgh, UK
As an Afghan I'd rather vote in a flawed election and choose a government as opposed to not having any governments at all. We need to start from somewhere, only then we can slowly work towards fairness and equality. Afghanistan is still recovering from it's shocking nightmares.
Yama, Edinburgh, UK

So what if the next government of Afghanistan is a 'puppet' of the USA. This will be a million times better than the Taleban rule they have been subjected to, and will be a first important step towards a true democracy free from the manipulation of Islamic extremists.
Steve Wilkins, Coventry, UK

It is right that Afghanistan is not ready to hold the elections in terms of security issues, but Afghans have witnessed worse situations than this and many of the presidential candidates are those who were involved in the recent wars in this country. It is obvious that the influence of warlords would affect the results of the elections.
Timochin, Balkh, Afghanistan Many of us say that it is a shame, that the elections are a trick of the Americans yet we rely on them to provide for us and bite their hand when we are not fed enough. When we organize ourselves it is by tribe or by ethnicity-- and into militias. We oppose but we do not generate a candidate and put him in the election and vote for him and have him win. We are fortunate that we are weak because this means we never have to blame ourselves.
Hakim Khan, Kabul, Afghanistan

As freely as they were in the US and Florida last cycle around!
Yusuf, Boston, Ma

Unless people are empowered and aware, democracy is a farce
Priyanka, India

I think the main challenges to election and democracy in Afghanistan are illiteracy, poverty and radicalism. It is a classic chicken-egg situation. Unless people are empowered and aware, democracy is a farce; and without a functional democracy, empowerment of people is not possible.
Priyanka, India

It is sad to see how the people of Afghanistan are used as campaign propaganda by the Bush administration. Let's face it; the US election in November is the only reason why Afghanistan has not postponed the Afghan election even further. Lack of money, lack of security, and lack of personnel will ensure these elections will be democratic in name only.
Alex, Urbana, IL, USA

I believe that many of the naysayers are missing the point. To expect a completely fair election, along western standards, in a country that, only two years ago, was ruled entirely by a theocracy, is exceptionally unrealistic. The fact that any election will take place, and that relative freedom prevails in Afghanistan is evidence of the progress made since the US invasion.
Angelo Morata, Chicago, IL, USA

It is absolutely possible to hold fair elections in our great country, Afghanistan. There will be people, who will try to sabotage and rig the elections. But, the true spirit of Afghans will defeat all of them. Inshallah.
Haroon, London, UK

No, not really. Karzai interim government's leader will become a permanent leader only because US supports him. Everyone knows he has no national support. The fact his body guards are American special forces, proves he has no national support.
Gul Khan, Kabul, Afghanistan

There are many tribes in that area and unfortunately they all have some sort of prejudices against each other
Nauman, Pakistan

This is certainly impossible for right now, I must say. Because there are many tribes in that area and unfortunately they all have some sort of prejudices against each other. Killing each other on no-one's behalf. And trying to be such extremist Muslims that it forces us to think whether they are right or if we are. Well whatever... Afghanistan and Afghans should be well established, raise their standards of living and should be optimistic in their routine approach. But the question is how will they come to this? No one knows the answer. Certainly this is uncertain in that very land. It will take time and all of us have to work together so that this impossible looking task can be accomplished.
Nauman, Pakistan

From BBCPersian.com: Generally speaking Afghanistan is not prepared for a democratic election but if it is necessary to hold the election, the existing challenges such as ethnic groups and warlords are not too serious to affect the results of the elections. Anyway, the issue of how much the people are familiar with the electoral process is very important. The Afghans are ready to use their today's experience to get an understanding of democracy for their own future.
Kazem Hooshmand, Yakavlang, Afghanistan

Better to start with a show than to be still enslaved by the Taleban, a beginning is a beginning, flawed as it is, but it is still a beginning.
JT, Puerto Rico

No, actually, as many say, it will be only a show. It will not be a fair election at all. As a simple example, Karzai is using all government resources including mass media to propagandise for his presidency. Most of his cabinet members, of course, support him in every speech they make. They even travel to districts and speak in his favour. Many people know this nasty fact. On the other hand the people ask: if not him as the president, who else could be? Other candidates are of no admiration. During the years of conflict their true faces have been shown to the people. So people cannot trust the rest, and will vote for not a good, but the best, Afghan candidate. In other words, it will be fair and not fair.
AK, Kabul, Afghanistan

A shame. It is a shame. Is this a true election? Is there any right for the people of Afghanistan to elect a person who is a real leader and not the imposed puppet? This is not a democracy this is a huge shame!
Syaal Sharif, Afghanistan

The Taleban will undoubtedly cause trouble , but they won't be the biggest obstacle to free elections
Jim, NJ, USA
The Taleban will undoubtedly cause trouble , but they won't be the biggest obstacle to free elections. Afghanistan is still controlled by warlords who act in self interest rather than national interest. These warlords have tremendous power on the local level and will definitely use their influence at the polls. The US has failed to deliver on promises made to both the Afghani and American people when the war started because Bush decided that a personal vendetta in Iraq was more important.
Jim, NJ, USA

I hear from the news sources that many have not even registered to vote, believing that the elections won't be fair anyway. They consider the present government an American puppet government as Bush is trying to do in Iraq, where we are still bring the blessings of peace and democracy, and shipping in more oil pipe.
David, Portland, USA

I don't think that fair elections can be held in Afghanistan
SB, Muenster, Germany
I don't think that fair elections can be held in Afghanistan, because the country is in large parts under the control of warlords who have no interest in strengthening the central government in Kabul. Another point is that I have heard of massive manipulations: Many young men were paid by the Karzai supporters to register two or more times and get different election cards. This is a clear attempt to manipulate the vote - and all that under the eyes of the UN... what a bogus!
SB, Muenster, Germany

The forthcoming election in Afghanistan might easily record itself in the history books as the most "unprepared" election of all times. As the current situation proves the four months postponement was not enough to create the optimal circumstances for the first democratic election to be held. Afghanistan is abounding in good will, only, pouring in from all corners of the globe but that is not enough to turn a dream into a working mechanism called democracy. I am afraid that the international community failed to recognise that in the shadow of Iraq an Afghanistan led by President Karzai has been left alone.
Mary McCannon, Budapest, Hungary

From BBCPersian.com: I think the elections should be held in spite of the fact the an atmosphere of crisis is prevailing in the country. The reason is that the international community can only trust in a democratic government with its donations.
Hussein Akbari, Ghazni, Afghanistan

No. It is impossible to have "fair", meaning truly free, elections in a country that has been enslaved to an Islamic constitution. A secular constitution would have provided for fair and free elections, for democracy, and for genuine human rights and freedoms, but the situation in Afghanistan is that legislative government is merely the puppet of religious leadership and so cannot attract the right people who would further Afghanistan's progress into the 21st century.
John Holmes, Canada

I have relatives in Afghanistan who will be voting, even though they are 100% certain this is a just a ploy by the US to show the world they are bringing democracy to Afghanistan. The 18 or so candidates (almost 10 of them) are directly related to the present president Karzai, so how's that fair? Apart from a few US soldiers patrolling certain areas nothing has changed. Voting will only present the Afghans with a US puppet president (Karzai?). Ask the real people of Afghanistan and they will agree. These elections are just a show!
Ahmed, Bristol, UK





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