August 2009 – Stay at home or we will cut your finger off! There are shootings in some villages near Kabul. The Taliban want to prevent the elections on August 20 by all means. In the south of the country, several village leaders have announced that they are not prepared to set up polling stations

August 2009 – Stay at home or we will cut your finger off!

There are shootings in some villages near Kabul. The Taliban want to prevent the elections on August 20 by all means. In the south of the country, several village leaders have announced that they are not prepared to set up polling stations in their villages. The danger of voters being murdered by Taliban supporters seems too great for them. There are regions where nobody will dare to go to the ballot boxes anyway. The militant Islamists have announced that anyone who has gone to vote will have their finger cut off after it is inked during the election.

The situation is also chaotic in the far north, especially in the border regions with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Hundreds of villages are unreachable by car – there are no roads at all. The ballot boxes are brought by truck as far as possible to the northern ends of the valleys. From these places, the only way to get to the villages is on the back of mules and donkeys. Some of the caravans that had set out on their way have simply disappeared in the meantime. With ballot boxes and ballots of course. The prince of Afghanistan tells us over dinner that he is very pessimistic about the future of his country and that he does not think that at least the current president is capable of uniting this multi-ethnic state. “Without massive help from outside,” said Prince Mustapha Zahir Khan, “it is impossible to make our country a peaceful place again.

Polling station in Sheberghan, province of Jowzjan in the North-West of Afghanistan – Photo: Ahmad Massoud

Wahab, our driver, is exceptionally quiet today. A few times I ask him what is going on, if there is anything we can do to help him. In the evening he tells us what happened to him the day before. “My friend, the head of the police academy had advised me to reapply to the police,” reports the Pashtoon, “recently the post of police chief for a Kabul district has become vacant. Wahab wants it. He introduced himself at police headquarters. His filef rom former times was still there, and a few people remembered him well. It soon became clear that he was the right candidate for the job of district chief. He is supposed to start work on September 1st. “Then the police chief asked me to come to his office for a short, confidential interview. It was perfectly fine with me.” And Wahab continues: “The fact that he asked me for $100,000 almost blew my mind. That’s what you’d have to do if you wanted a senior police position. And the police chief continued: Besides, that wouldn’t be a problem either, because you’d have the money back in two years at the latest.”

Everybody in Afghanistan knows: since the end of 2001 / beginning of 2002 there is a more and more sophisticated system of bribery in the whole country. Without baksheesh almost nothing works anymore, authorities only take action if there is bribery and at times the luggage was only handed over at the airport for a few dollars. At check-in, without “lubrication”, often a thorough felting is done and usually something (more or less) forbidden is found. Now it seems that this system has been perfected up to the highest police circles. In Wahab’s Afghanistan at least the police were still incorruptible. He did not get the job – and probably did not want it anymore.

Only a few days left until the ballot. The attacks are increasing. Not here in Kabul, but mainly in the south of Afghanistan. Near Kandahar a polling station, the classroom of a school, has been completely destroyed by an explosive device. It is precisely in such regions that fear of election day is growing. According to the election administrator, more than 80 percent of all polling stations in the country are now to be equipped with urns, ballot papers, posters and ink. The ink is the same as that used for example in Germany for meat inspection. It is used to mark a voter’s finger after the ballot has been cast so that he or she cannot cast a second vote. It is allegedly impossible to remove the ink – it must grow out slowly. This is the finger that the Taliban have promised to cut off.

At the ballot box – index finger already marked with ink – photo: Jawal Jalali

In the evening we have the election official on camera. He admits that he and his people have an extremely difficult task to solve, but he also says that they have done an excellent job and that the population should not be afraid of the Taliban. Less than two hours later, a polling station including all the people working in it is blown up. Several dead.

Together with Wahab as interpreter, we ask people on the streets whether they will go to the polls on Thursday. Television people call this “VoxPop” and it is something like a little referendum with a camera and microphone. Kay is standing diagonally behind Wahab, shooting over the shoulder of our translator, so to speak. Wahab asks the question. “Will you vote in the presidential election?” Always the same question, many different answers. Almost half of all women turn away, won’t say anything, probably won’t be filmed. A few men cross the street to change sides after they spot us. I estimate that 70% of all the answers we get are positive. These people are desperate to vote. Some express disinterest in politics and others think the risk is too great. Actually, the result is not so bad – but here we are in relatively safe Kabul. In village areas, especially in the south, where the Taliban have never really been driven out, the answers are likely to be completely different.

 *** Translated with the help of (free version) ***

So this is Chapter 58 of my Afghanistan diary. The next chapter will be published on 4 August 2020. It will be named “August 2009 – It’s good to have some Nail Polish Remover“. New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total. Please scroll further down for subscription.

Dieter Herrmann, the author of this Afghanistan diary, lives in Australia, reports from there for German television stations and is editor-in-chief of the only German-language newspaper in Australia. He is known as a media trainer for radio and television stations all over the world as well as media trainer for senior managers, officers and pilots. To get in touch with the author and for further information on media training by Dieter and his crew please use the “contact”-button or send an email to dieter(at) (please replace the (at) with the @-sign!)

My first trip to Afghanistan started in the early summer of 1973. Since then I have been to the country at the Hindu Kush more than 100 times and in total have spent several years in Afghanistan. I got to know all political systems from the kingdom up to the today’s Islamic Republic. In about 60 chapters, based on diaries and memories, I describe my experiences in the country, which has not come to a rest since 1973. Among many other experiences, I was arrested and imprisoned twice during this time, had to live temporarily in the bunker of the Turkish embassy and had an amazing interview with Mullah Muttawakil, the personal spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and later Taliban Foreign Minister. I describe my personal feelings and doubts as well as political and human events, movements in the population and developments in the country. Nothing about this manuscript has been invented or added – however, to avoid endangering anyone, I left out some of my experiences. I changed some names to protect friends and informants. Whether the last chapter will ever be finished is questionable. I was supposed to be back in Kabul in 2018, but the security situation is so bad that my clients are unlikely to get me into the country. “German media trainer murdered by Taliban” would be a catastrophic headline for everyone involved.

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