Archive for October, 2004

Burqas and ballots

Friday, October 8th, 2004

Burqas and ballots

In one of the most male-dominated nations on earth, Afghan vice presidential candidate Shafiqa Habibi doesn’t play second fiddle to anyone.

By Ann Marlowe

Perhaps the best summary I heard of next week’s Afghan presidential election came from one of the freshman boys I’ve been teaching English to at Herat University. “It is unfair, but we must say it is fair, because it is our first election. Karzai will win because the Americans want him to win.”

Sitting presidents have an advantage everywhere in the world, but it is rarely as large as in media-poor Afghanistan. Most Afghans cannot read well enough to understand the newspapers, which are pitched to a high school reading level. In Ghor Province, Afghanistan’s poorest, the mention of the word “rouznameh” (newspaper) produced blank stares, as well it might in a province where only a small percentage of the people outside the local capital can read. Together with small, colorful posters found even in village shops, radio and TV are the main sources of information (where there is reception). But in Herat, as in other provincial capitals, there is just one TV station. (The rich here, as elsewhere, have satellite TV.) Before President Karzai deposed local strongman Ismail Khan three weeks ago, the station showed all Khan, all the time. Now it shows a mixture of Kabul and local programming, but the Kabul news coverage is all Karzai, all the time. The other night, I watched nearly real-time coverage of Karzai’s recent visit to the United Nations. None of the other 17 candidates for the presidency appeared at all.