wed 13/11/2019

True Stories - Vote Afghanistan! More4 | reviews, news & interviews

True Stories - Vote Afghanistan! More4

True Stories - Vote Afghanistan! More4

Sobering account of Afghanistan's first democratic election in 2009

Afghans wonder what democracy means for them

One can only speculate about why More4 would want to broadcast a documentary about bare-faced electoral fraud in the week before the climax of our own unimpeachably democratic process. However, this rather long film about 2009's Afghan presidential election gradually marshalled its arguments into a pointed critique of how the “democracy” which the West has unloaded over Afghanistan like a badly aimed air strike is anything but. Of course, this may not strike many people as front page news.

Interestingly, even such complete novices at the free elections game as the Afghans had beaten the British to the punch with televised candidates’ debates. We saw Dr Abdullah Abdullah, veteran of the struggle against both Russians and the Taliban, butting up against the scholarly Dr Ashraf Ghani, the country’s former Finance Minister. However, the galvanising power of television wasn’t quite so spectacularly in evidence over there, and there was no instant outbreak of Ghanimania. While the incumbent President Karzai declined an invitation to participate in that particular debate (though he was pressured into taking part in later broadcasts), he nonetheless romped to victory with a 54 per cent share of the vote. Okay, so a million of those votes turned out to be fraudulent, but he’s hanging in there with the very public and frankly nauseating blessing of Hillary Clinton.

With its meandering structure and apparently suicidal lack of urgency,Vote Afghanistan! seemed to have been designed to weed out insufficently committed viewers, but ultimately this proved to be a shrewd approach. It was a way of emphasising how different expectations are in sprawling, rural, mostly primitive Afghanistan, worlds away from our own climate of impatience and instant gratification. What the film achieved most forcefully was to compel comparisons with the complacency and disinformation that shroud our own elections, as it spotlit the big, urgent questions that Afghan voters were asking. While British politicians quarrel over whether to tinker with incomprehensible tax credits now or in 12 months' time, across huge swathes of Afghanistan people don’t have electricity, a water supply or proper roads, and food is too expensive to buy. We saw a chilling clip of school children being prompted by a compliant teacher to sing the praises of the Karzai regime, lauding its delivery of democracy and huge improvements in education, while children a few miles away weren’t being given any schooling at all. (Afghan election posters eschew levity, pictured below.)In some ways Afghanistan seemed relatively modern, for instance in the way its media elite surveyed the developing election story with a familiar air of slightly patronising omniscience. There were also signs that Afghan women were agitating for more personal freedom, better education and an electoral voice. In other respects the country looked as if it hadn't changed since the parting of the Red Sea or the fall of Carthage. For instance, although Dr Abdullah had the use of a helicopter to visit outlying regions, his audiences consisted of straggling crowds who had trekked across sun-blasted plains for hours on foot or by mule to hear him.

afghan_smallMost extraordinary of all was Dr Ramzan Bashardost, who had spent a year campaigning around the country on foot, without bodyguards or any financial backing whatsoever. He didn't own a home, and didn't have a wife or children because he feared that emotional ties would sap his determination to visit the country's most remote and hazardous areas. He believed that his self-sacrifice meant that he could "speak for all Afghans", which seemed to make him unique. "Afghan politicians are not in love with the people," he declared.

And finally, after the Afghans had braved threats of shootings and bombings to cast their votes, the unscrupulous machinations of the Karzai regime and its overseas friends ensured that they might as well have stayed at home. Funny how our parliamentarians have contrived so successfully to keep Afghanistan off the agenda throughout our own election campaign.

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