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Afghanistan’s runoff election moves the country another step closer to replacing outgoing President Hamid Karzai. But some Afghans say they don’t really care who wins — they’re just eager for the new president to take office and re-start the economy, sign an agreement that will let U.S. troops stay beyond December and improve public safety after 13 years of war. Kojo explores how new leadership will shape the country’s future in a volatile region and what it will mean for ending America’s longest war.
- Sean Carberry Kabul Correspondent, NPR
- Rangina Hamidi Founder and Creative Director, Kandahar Treasure (the first social enterprise owned and operated by women in Kandahar Province)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, a reporter on his novel about a reporter investigating a series of murders in Washington. We'll talk with the Washington Post Neely Tucker.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, despite threats of violence from the Taliban, seven million Afghan voters reportedly turned out on Saturday to cast their ballots in the run-off election to chose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Women, covered head to toe in berkers and men across the country, waiting in long lines to vote, and emerging from their polling places with ink stained fingers. The mark of having voted.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfter 13 years in power, Karzai's term is up and Afghan's are eager for a new president to get started. Whoever wins has a tough path ahead. Among the top priorities are restarting the flagging economy, signing an agreement that will keep some U.S. troops on hand for training and trying to improve security and safety after many years of war. As Afghan's await results of the run-off, which will be announced July 2, American officials are also watching the outcome of what they hope will be the first democratic transition of power in Afghanistan's history.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to examine the election and the future of Afghanistan, in studio, is Rangina Hamidi, founder and creative director of Kandahar Treasure. Rangina, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. RANGINA HAMIDIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us, by phone, from Kabul is Sean Carberry. He is Kabul correspondent for NPR. Sean Carberry, thank you for joining us.
MR. SEAN CARBERRYMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDISean, there were scattered incidents of violence Saturday, but overall, it sounds like the voting went fairly smoothly and turnout was high. Do Afghan's consider the run-off a success, so far?
CARBERRYYeah, Afghan's certainly do. That's, that's the narrative here, that this vote somewhat mirrored the April 5, first round vote, in terms of the high turnout, the number of security incidents was significant, there were quite a number of people killed around the country but, generally speaking, people are feeling like the Taliban did not prevent the election from going forward. Again, turnout, there's still some questions about this estimated seven million, as to whether that's an accurate figure yet. But either way, still strong turnouts and people decisively coming out to, to vote for either Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani.
NNAMDIThe reason there's some question about the high turnout is because this turnout is higher then the voter turnout in the first round and, on this occasion, there were no provincial council elections. So there is some skepticism about the seven million number, correct?
CARBERRYYeah, there is. There were a number of reasonable arguments why turnouts should've been lower in this election and it caught quite a few number of people by surprise when the electoral commission announced, very shortly after the polls closed on Saturday, that the turnout was at least seven million which would exceed the, the official count from the first round. Candidate Abdullah Abdullah is arguing, this is a sign of fraud, which he's been warning about for quite some time.
CARBERRYCandidate Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, has said, actually, he put his campaign into overdrive in the last month, had a very aggressive vote turnout operation and, you know, he says that, you know, he thinks people really did come out and vote.
NNAMDIIs it possible that the candidate, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is complaining about the election commissions early numbers are, seven million, is it possible it's because he's a little nervous about how this will end up?
CARBERRYThat's certainly a read among many people here. He came into this round as the front runner. He had a 14 point lead in the first round, although he came up a few points shy of 50 percent to win outright in the first round. So, again, he came in rotting the, the wave of the front runner. But both campaigns have received the, the tally sheets from the polling centers. Votes were counted at the end of voting on Saturday. And the campaigns have copies of the tally sheets.
CARBERRYSo even though electoral officials aren't releasing the results for a couple more weeks, the campaigns have been crunching the numbers. And, so, so that the body language from both campaigns, right now, is Ghani seems confident and Abdullah is making accusations that electoral commissioners were involved in fraud, in warning that there's significant fraud in the outcome.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we are conducting an Afghanistan election update, if you will. A conversation you can join by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think we'll see a peaceful transition of leadership in Afghanistan from President Hamid Karzai, to the winner of Saturday's runoff? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. You can shoot us a Tweet @kojoshow. We're talking with Sean Carberry, Kabul correspondent with NPR and Rangina Hamidi, founder and creative director of Kandahar Treasure.
NNAMDIRangina, you just returned from a month and a half in Kandahar, the second largest city in Afghanistan. What did you hear, from people there, about the election and their priorities for whoever wins?
HAMIDII heard, very clear and loud, that people are tired of the violence and the -- and you just not knowing what the future may hold. So they were extremely ready for the elections to be over with. And, quite honestly, in your assessment of -- or the assessment of the seven million people coming out and voting, I sensed, on the ground, that people who didn't vote in the first round, in April, they were actually willing and hoping to go and vote the second time because a choice was quite clear to them. They didn't have to chose between nine or 10 candidates. They only have to choose between one or the other.
HAMIDIAnd that ease, I think, has encouraged many more people to come out this time, then the last time. That does not mean that the Afghan elections are fraudless. We know -- and this is Afghanistan and we know that fraud and, and corruption is definitely an active part of the society, unfortunately today. But, I think, people are eager to know the results and start a new chapter for Afghanistan. A new chapter that will bring them hope and dignity.
NNAMDISean Carberry, without major political differences between the two candidates in the runoff, how did former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani each make his case to voters?
CARBERRYWell, as you say, there weren't a lot of major differences, especially on a macro level. You know, they both, obviously, they want peace, they want to build the economy, the main things that, that people here want. Some of the differences did come out in details, I mean, Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, much more of a, a diplomat politician, spoke in sort of more lofty terms.
CARBERRYAshraf Ghani, former world bank economist, put out a lot more detail. He had, you know, two, three point plans for various things, whether it's corruption, getting the economy going, so you know, there was some distinction on that level. But then it's inevitable in Afghanistan, that certain issues of, of ethnicity, of background come into play. Also the vice presidential candidates on each tickets are selected to try to broaden the appeal from different ethnic groups.
CARBERRYSo, so a lot of that type of dynamic where you had this one level, this sort of modern campaigning, talking about policy and, and what they're gonna do. But then a lot of reaching out to tribal elders, people from different groups, power brokers that could also help deliver votes.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number. You can also shoot us a Tweet @kojoshow or go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Rangina, even though the years of war have been hard on Afghan's, some have seen their standard of living improved because, well, they've been employed, as drivers, janitors, by the international military and aid groups in the country. How has that effected their economic outlook in the face of high unemployment, as international groups are now winding down their work in the country?
HAMIDIAbsolutely. The past 12 years of international communities involvement in Afghanistan have enabled the common Afghan citizen to get a taste of life, of what life could be with steady income coming into the home. And I take the example of Kandahar Treasure, providing working opportunity to more than 420 women, throughout Kandahar province.
NNAMDITell us how Kandahar Treasure works?
HAMIDIKandahar Treasure is a home based, social enterprise where it is owned and operated by women, alone. We have seven men working with us but those men are, are primarily staff, supporting staff, as guards or drivers and procurement officers. But the management and the operation is mainly led by women. And, let me just also add, that none of these women are your full, you know, literate, highly educated graduates of high schools or college. They're, you know, completely uneducated women, housewives who have decided to come and work together as a team, as a collective, to raise their incomes.
HAMIDIAnd collectively, in 2013, the women brought in rev -- not revenue but the total number of sales, from the operation, exceeded $300,000, U.S. dollars. And to think that women are able to generate that, that amount of money through their needles and threads, in their homes, I think, is an incredible powerful story to be told and, and known in Afghanistan, in a place like Kandahar.
NNAMDIWell, they're doing an intricate form of embroidery. What does it mean, for these women, to have work and to have incomes of their own?
HAMIDIFor the majority of our women, the income means many of them not going to bed with an empty stomach or not sending, putting their children to sleep on hungry stomachs. Many of the women, or almost 99 percent of our women, are spending the income that they're earning on food, on basic needs of their children, like shoes, plastic shoes that they need to wear outside to go out, on the streets. Taking them to a doctor or a clinic when there's a sign of a sickness, instead of waiting or nagging their husbands or fathers to bring the kind of income or, you know, the necessary income to take them.
NNAMDIWhich often causes a lot of conflict in the home.
HAMIDIWell, absolutely, absolutely. And so the women are now making those simple but important decisions on their own and it's helping improve, even their social status inside the home. One woman, very, you know, jokingly but seriously, told me, laughing, she says, my, my husband and I no longer are fighting everyday because I now can take care of my children's needs. And I don't need to nag him about their needs on a daily basis. That's the level of work and improvement that we've been bringing through Kandahar Treasure to our network of 400 plus women.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here is Sema in Falls Church, Va. Sema, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SEMAThank you, Kojo. My comment is about election. Hopefully we will have a peaceful election and someone who can care for Afghan and Afghanistan and the future of Afghanistan. And also, I have another comment saying is, nobody can build Afghanistan but the Afghan's. And Rangina is one of the greatest example. I have seen her work, I have seen her support with our (word?) foundation with the street children of Afghanistan.
SEMAAnd her embroidery and work is amazing. It's amazing. And work of the people like, Rangina, that they have gone and they put hard work for -- with the women and children to do something and bring them an income. You don't have to give them a handout, give them a, give them a hands up, to train them, to make them be sustainable at their life and their future. And I admire her work and I respect her work and I appreciate people like Rangina and good luck to all of us.
NNAMDISema, thank you very much for your call. Rangina, Sema makes the point that nobody can build Afghanistan, but Afghans. Is this why you created Kandahar Treasure?
HAMIDII could not agree with her more. Sema, it's great to hear your voice on the show. I actually built Kandahar Treasure on the foundation of Kandahar Treasure being a nonprofit organizations project so it's fund-driven for the first initial five years, from 2003 until 2008. And what I learned in those five years is that in order for Afghanistan to have a future, we, as Afghan people, need to build our own country with our own sweat and hand and effort.
HAMIDIThe handouts, the charity, while all appreciated, I saw it firsthand being given out like candy on the street, it was good while it lasted, but it also created a huge country of dependent people waiting to be spoon-fed and unfortunately, a lot of our politicians continue to, you know, fight this effort of help us, help us, help us and I, you know, in my small little effort among, along with so many other Afghans are trying to say that in order for us to build Afghanistan, we need to create the industry of jobs.
HAMIDIWe need to build the efforts of ordinary citizens to be able to sustain for themselves so that they know what it takes to build something. It took 30 plus years to destroy and continually, some enemies of Afghanistan are, obviously, continuing to destroy Afghanistan, but when you build something with your own hands and sweat and effort, then my hope is that people will think twice about destructing it.
HAMIDIAnd so really that is the philosophy behind Kandahar Treasures, to enable our citizens, especially the women and children to be able to own Afghanistan with their own hands and build it the way they wish to see it in the future.
NNAMDIRangina Hamidi is founder and creative director of Kandahar Treasure. She joins us in studio in the wake of Saturday's election in Afghanistan. We're also talking with Sean Carberry, Kabul correspondent for NPR. Sean, what role did Taliban intimidation play in Saturday's voting? The media here say that the lack of major disruption means a victory for the Afghan security forces, also means the Taliban threat is fading. Is that the sense you get from people there?
CARBERRYCertainly the attitude is that the Taliban failed to achieve their objective of disrupting the elections, either in the first round or the second round and that people largely went out in defiance to cast their vote. So certainly, it's being viewed as a strategic defeat of the Taliban at this point, certainly by no means takes them off the battlefield. There are still parts of the country that are firmly under Taliban control.
CARBERRYNo one is expecting fighting to stop any time soon, but it's certainly a moral victory. And as you pointed out, it's another confidence builder for Afghan troops. They came through the first round of election and afterwards felt that they had done their job. They had secured the elections. Came into this round with more confidence so on that level, people here are very positive about the atmospherics and messaging that this campaign sends, the election says.
CARBERRYOne quick point, just to circle back to, though, about some of the concern is right now, with the two candidates sort of posturing around the results, there is concern, number one, about the level of fraud, how that could affect the outcome and whether or not the loser ultimately accepts the outcome and whether that loser unleashes political challenges, whether their supporters take to the streets at all.
CARBERRYSo even though the vote itself on Saturday was a success on many levels, this period right now is still a period of uncertainty and concern about will the outcome be respected by all sides and lead to a peaceful transition.
NNAMDIThis question for both of you, but I'll start with you first, Rangina Hamidi. To what extent are safety and security still everyday concerns for Afghans both in the cities and the rural areas?
HAMIDIOh, it's a concern of every single second of life that every Afghan citizen breathes in and out every day. I spent a month and a half there and every time I travel to Afghanistan, I say my goodbyes to my family knowing that I may not return. And even while being and living in Afghanistan, any second, you expect things to possibly go wrong. You know, Kandahar Treasure operation has been operating in Kandahar since 2003 and we've been hesitant to open up a retail shop in the city for the mere fact that we could become targeted or that we could be collateral damage in an attack.
HAMIDIAnd then, finally, you know, when you live in such destructive environments and regions for so long, you're forced to take it is as that in security being part of life. So you make your decisions based on what you have around you, but security remains the number one concern for every citizen, man, woman, child, old, educated and non educated in Afghanistan. And until and unless the new leader of Afghanistan can address this issue, we can talk about politics and the future of Afghanistan in any capacity that we can, but unless there is security, there's really no viable future for Afghanistan.
NNAMDIThis raises the question, Sean Carberry, of what this election means for the United States and its ability to finally end an unpopular 13-year long war and also to have a willing political partner going forward.
CARBERRYWell, key thing with both candidates is that they have said that they would immediately sign the security agreement with the U.S. They've made that clear for a long time. They've both been critical of President Karzai for not signing the security agreement, for creating further uncertainty about whether there will be a continued troop presence here. And both candidates are very much pro-Western engagement.
CARBERRYThey know this country needs military and financial support from the international community so, again, they've been very open about that. Western officials here have said they're happy with either candidates, that they feel that they will have a willing partner and that there will be more cooperation than there has been in recent years with President Karzai.
NNAMDIIs that also your hope, Rangina?
HAMIDII'd just like to add that while the BSA is an important element to the security moving forward in Afghanistan, there's also the element of the regional politics involved. Yes, the relationship between America and Afghanistan is crucial not only for the politics of it, but also the economic ties that one country has towards the other or the dependence that Afghan has on America's continuous aid.
HAMIDIBut, you know, I don't think the BSA alone is the solution to the security of Afghanistan. We are in a region where we, unfortunately don't have the nicest of neighbors around us and world politics now know that. So unless we address a regional solution to the politics of insecurity, I'm, in a way, unhopeful that just the BSA agreement, the signature on the BSA agreement will be sufficient enough to bring security to Afghanistan.
NNAMDII guess, come July 2, we'll have to see what the future holds. Rangina Hamidi is founder and creative director of Kandahar Treasure. Thank you for joining us.
HAMIDIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Sean Carberry is Kabul correspondent for NPR. He joined us by phone. Sean Carberry, thank you very much joining us. We're going to take a short break, we will be talking with Neely Tucker -- you were about to say, Sean? I interrupted you.
CARBERRYI was about to say, you're welcome, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you very much. When we come back, we'll be talking with Washington Post reporter Neely Tucker about his new novel, "The Ways of the Dead." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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