ISTALLEF, AFGHANISTAN — Far from the rush of the Afghan presidential race between frontrunners Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah are small rural villages like Istallef — about an hour's drive north of Kabul.
One of the towns destroyed for its opposition to the Taliban during their last fight for control in the late 1990s, Istallef's residents, like the majority of Afghans who inhabit rural villages scattered around the country — away from the centers of power in Kabul and other major cities — the final results of Saturday’s presidential elections matter less than the need for peace and jobs.
“Whether it is Ghani or Abdullah, we request them to improve the economy of Afghanistan and have a serious plan for the people, educate the children, build schools,” said resident Noor Ahmad Ahmadi, a potter. “Their presence is important, people will support them whoever they are.”
For shopkeeper Mohammad Wasil Ahmadi, who like many has defied ongoing Taliban attacks around Afghanistan, his village is prepared to battle militants again if necessary.
“They committed crimes all over Afghanistan. If they come back with their old ideology and system, we will not accept them,” he said.
While international aid has helped villages like Istallef, the funding could wind down as foreign troops leave.
Istallef's elders such as Haji Nasir Ahmad, who have survived decades of war, poverty and politics, have advice for Afghanistan’s next president.
“He should work, he should repair the places that are destroyed, he should build factories, and he should promise to build schools, and there should be an end to the war,” he said.
On June 14, Afghans will decide who that president will be.