Kabul Diary - 19 August 2009

Amanullah Ghilza

*Amanullah Ghilzai is Managing Editor of the VOA Pashto Afghan service
Day 5 in Afghanistan

While we were having breakfast this morning, one of our stringers in Kabul called from home asking all members of the VOA’s Afghan team to stay in the hotel and not to go to the city center as some armed men have stormed an Afghan bank in the heart of the city. We were not surprised keeping in view the overall situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban threats that they would disrupt the election. 

On the eve of the Afghan election we were expecting more violence in the city following yesterday’s attacks. When I switched on the Afghan TV channels the news bulletins were already covering the incident in the city center not far from a hotel where some of our other colleagues were staying. "A branch of the Afghan Pashtani Bank was stormed by three armed men", the news bulletins said and quoted the Afghan Interior Ministry as saying that the raid had been carried out by "terrorists", although it had earlier described them as "robbers" or "thieves".

Some Afghan journalists told me that the government has asked the media not to report violence on the election day to avoid deterring people from voting. When I asked as to what would be the reaction of the Afghan media, they said the move by the government was heavily being criticized, and said that most of the journalists would ignore it. later on, in the city center, I saw people very calm, completely ignoring this incident. When I asked some of them if they would go out and poll their votes in the election, they answered, “ for sure”. I asked if they were scared following recent attacks in the city and the Taliban threats that they would sabotage the election, they laughed and answered,  “all these incidents of violence were part of normal life in Afghanistan and wouldn’t affect voters’ turnout in the cities unless some thing very spectacular happens.”  But, the streets of the city were quite for the second consecutive day, suggesting that many citizens were avoiding to go to the town center fearing more attacks by the Taliban on the election eve.

Later in the day, I, with two of my colleagues Jalil Ghani and Wagma Jalawan went to attend a press conference by the head of the Afghan Election Commission at the Inter Continental Hotel, situated in a western part of the Kabul city. The hotel was very heavily fortified, and looked like castle. There were several check posts before entering the hotel building. Our ID cards and equipments were checked at all the check posts before entering the hotel. I saw Afghan army officers with sniffing dogs in front of the hotel lobby, asking the cameraman to put down his equipments for the specially trained dogs for sniffing. Wagma was also asked to leave her beg in front of the dogs. Wagma, who has a fear of dogs, reluctantly put her beg in front of the dogs who sniffed and moved away their faces which means no explosives were detected.

In the press conference senior officials of the Afghan Election Commission told journalists that the Afghan people were fully supporting the election process and would not allow any one to disrupt the polling on August 20th, saying that despite their repeated threats Taliban could not do much to sabotage the electoral process.

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