Afghans weigh in on US presidential candidates

For Afghanistan, Hilary Clinton is a known entity while Donald Trump is either a ‘nightmare’ or potential change agent.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
Clinton's long political CV makes her a recognisable face for Afghans, but many here view Trump negatively [Reuters]

Kabul, Afghanistan – The outcome of the US presidential election has a far-reaching impact, and in Afghanistan’s capital, some have definite ideas about who they would like to see in office: Republican nominee Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

This is the country where America’s longest war has been playing out since 2001. It’s where US drones and NATO air strikes kill al-Qaeda targets and civilians alike. It is also where a US troop withdrawal has resulted in increased Taliban attacks and rising civilian casualties. 

The choice between the candidates has left some puzzled – but then, there’s a saying in these parts: When ones lives in the world of the blind, the man with one eye is king.

Still, for Afghans, what Americans decide on the other side of the world could have life or death consequences.

Omid Behrooz does not hide his support for Clinton [Facebook]
Omid Behrooz does not hide his support for Clinton [Facebook]

“Unfortunately, we seem lost in this election. Neither candidate seems to have a plan for Afghanistan,” said Bashir Ahmad Qasani, who covers politics for Afghanistan’s 1TV.

“The American elections are quite important for us – and It’s worrying for us. Why is it that for 14 or 15 years, their longest war, has been taking place here but is forgotten?” asked Qasani.

He said the hope is that the Democrats stay in power, because at least under President Barack Obama, they have decided to delay total troop withdrawal and are supporting Afghan troops.

“Trump, as a candidate, is fascinating for Afghans – he’s unreal. I’ve never covered a candidate like him. And yet, with two or three days left to the elections, it seems that he’s getting close to Clinton in polls and could be equal.”

The closeness of the race is making some nervous here, especially given some of Trump’s statements on wanting to prevent Muslims from entering the US, or adding them to a watchlist.

“What he’s saying will be bad for Muslims in America and bad for Islam,” said Dean Mohamad, 20, supervisor of a sporting goods store.

Kabul social science major Ahmad Reza, 22, called Trump “hateful” and “dangerous”, saying that comparatively speaking, Clinton is a “humanitarian”.

Some, such as Omid Behrooz, a media producer in Mazar-e-Sharif, make their love of Clinton public.

He even changed his Facebook profile picture and background to reflect his support of Clinton. “Because I think she will win – she has the experience … Trump is a nightmare,” said Behrooz.

The reports of Trump’s treatment of women has also made a bit of a splash here.

“Mrs. Clinton will be a better choice because she understands women’s issues all over the world,” said Hellai Amiri, 35. “And here, in Afghanistan, we have a lot of problems – with security, in the workplace, at home, in society,” she said. 

Amiri’s concerns were echoed by others, including Mariam Farzami, a fine arts student at Kabul University.

“I’ll feel strong when I see a woman is president,” said Farzami, 22. “Trump has no programmes for women [in Afghanistan] – he insults women and does not care for Muslims.”

READ MORE: Progress and regress: Obama’s mixed Afghanistan legacy

Trump’s ‘rawness’ an asset

For some, it’s not so much that Clinton is a woman but that Trump has a “reputation as a womaniser”, said Ali Noori, 28, co-owner of a dried goods store. 

“On Facebook, we keep seeing negative things about Mr Trump and what he’s done to multiple women,” said Noori. “He’s a businessman who doesn’t know about politics.”

Not everone sees Trump’s lack of political experience as a negative thing.

Ali Noori said he respected Clinton's political experience [Al Jazeera]
Ali Noori said he respected Clinton’s political experience [Al Jazeera]

Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, said both candidates “present an opportunity for Afghanistan”.

“Hillary Clinton’s knowledge of Afghanistan and the region is an asset for us. So, she would be dealing with something that she has been engaged with for a number of years – over two decades. Her interest with Afghanistan started when Taliban was in power and with women’s issues,” he said.

However, that kind of experience, said Moradian, “can have it’s own disadvantage”.

“That means reinforcing the status quo and business as usual – and business as usual is not what Afghanistan needs. We need some new ideas … and I don’t expect Hillary Clinton will be able to present a paradigm change in the US-Afghanistan relationship.”

“With Trump comes the rawness, and that’s a kind of Pandora’s box, which could come with a paradigm change, but that needs to be explored,” said Moradian, adding that changes would need to happen in Washington and in how the US chooses its partners in Afghanistan and sees its relationship with Afghanistan’s neightbor, Pakistan.

Trump lacks of political experience, he said, but added, “International politics is like the corporate world – it does not have any rules. It’s full of competition and back-stabbing. And Trump has experience in the corporate world .. everyone is involved in double gaming. And Trump has the potential to play that game.”

Democrats, he said, have allowed themselves to be “manipulated by everyone … in global politics, the US has been stabbed in the back by Taliban, by Afghan warlords, by Tehran, by Moscow, by everyone.”

His one piece of advice for the future US president: “Reconsider your friends – those in Afghanistan and those in the region.”

Source: Al Jazeera