Dozens of men sat quietly in rows on the mosque floor like
they would during a prayer sermon, but it wasn't a Friday congregation.
It was a Saturday morning, during the last leg of a voter registration
drive in Kabul. The men were waiting to be called forward to
get an election card.
In Dashti Barchee, on the western outskirts of Kabul, men mill around the entrance of a mosque that functions during the daytime as a temporary registration center. A campaign poster of the Shiite Muslim Hazara candidate Hajj Mohammad Mohaqiq hangs outside the mosque.
I came to this largely Hazara district on the outskirts of the city to take some photos of a mosque converted into a temporary voter registration center. The Hazara are a small ethnic group that was abused and enslaved by an Afghan monarch in the late 1800s. Ever since, they've been discriminated against and relegated to menial jobs in Afghan society. Most Hazara are from Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, where the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddha statues and massacred hundreds of Hazara because they are Shiite Muslims.
On the other end of the prayer hall, separated by a black curtain,
women crowded around a table. Some of them wore long, black
chadors. Many Hazaras were refugees in Iran, where they've picked
up Iranian accents and style of Islamic dress.
Waiting to obtain a voter card during the last days of the registration process, women gather around a registration table in a mosque at Dashti Barchee, a largely Hazara minority region on the western outskirts of Kabul.
Zainab, a 21-year-old newlywed, told me she came to get a
card with her husband. "I want to vote because it's good for
our country," she told me.
I asked if her if she was familiar with candidates aside from Karzai, and she named Hajj Mohammad Mohaqiq, a former Mujahidin commander and one-time minister of planning, whose campaign posters were plastered throughout this district, including right outside the mosque's main entrance.
Mohaqiq, a Hazara himself, smiles broadly in his photo, showing
off a handsome row of straight, white teeth. "A vote for Mohaqiq
is a vote for social justice," his campaign slogan read.
Ten and a half million Afghans were registered for the elections.
Refugees and exiles living in Iran and Pakistan were able to vote
too because registration efforts extended into those two countries,
where up to 4 million Afghans live.
Getting a card was easy -- too easy, some critics of the process
said. Reports of people with multiple registration cards emerged
during the process, with some Afghans claiming to have more
than a dozen.
election worker takes an instant photo of a resident for a voter registration
card, at a mosque in Dashti Barchee on the western outskirts of Kabul.
On the 2004 campaign trail, President Bush repeatedly has pointed to the high voter registration figures as a victory for democracy. But United Nations officials admitted that the numbers are exaggerated and indicated fraud. In several provinces, voter-registration rates exceeded eligible voters by 40 percent.
"You've had people registering multiple times because they can
sell their cards and candidates collect them," said Vikram Parekh,
a senior analyst for Kabul-based International Crisis Group. "There
have been cases of candidates donating extra cards to candidates
they want to stay on good terms with. It's really a horse-trading
kind of thing. It's a real perversion of the democratic process,
and it's apparent to everyone."
Even though I wouldn't be in Afghanistan during the elections,
I wanted a registration card as a memento, so I lined up to
have my mug shot taken. After the passport-sized photo dried
in a matter of minutes, it was given to an election worker who
pasted the photo on the lower right-hand corner of a blank card.
When Soraya, a 32-year old teacher and part-time election worker,
asked me where I lived, I said "Karte Parwan." She filled
out my name, age and residency information on the card, a little
bigger than the size of an American driver's license, and made
me sign my name on the back. Illiterate voters were fingerprinted,
and women who did not wish to be photographed could get a card
without their pictures, partly explaining how some people could
have obtained multiple registration cards. Afterward, Soraya
sealed the card with a clear, laminated adhesive cover that,
if removed, would tear the card.
The voter registration card for FRONTLINE/World correspondent Roya Aziz, which she obtained at a mosque in Dashti Barchee.
My card became one of the approximately 11 million.
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