|Afghans hope Obama’s victory will bring peace for war-weary Afghans [EPA]|
As Americans voted in a new president on the promise of “change,” Afghans were watching the election of Barack Obama with cautious optimism, hopeful that a loud and clear mandate for change will extend to US policy towards Afghanistan, so helping to transform their lives.
Increasing insecurity, rising costs and growing lawlessness have left many Afghans sceptical of the US-dominated Western intervention, which began seven years ago.
|Babakarkhail calls the election ‘historic not just for Americans but for the whole world’|
But the infectious enthusiasm of Obama’s supporters seems to have touched Afghanistan too – resulting in a cautious optimism that has been absent for a very long time.
At an election night gathering for American-Afghans and other foreign nationals, organised by the US embassy in Kabul, a mock poll saw 74 out of 77 votes cast in favour of Obama by the mixed group, according to Zubair Babakarkhail, who attended the event.
Babakarkhail, a journalist with the independent Afghan news agency Pajhwok, said event at Kabul’s Serena Hotel was held in a room decorated with red and blue while badges of the two candidates were distributed.
However, it was the “Obama badges that were being snapped up by most people. We in Afghanistan mainly supported Obama. It is a historic election not just for Americans but for the whole world,” he said.
Babakarkhail said Afghans have been “frustrated with the situation here and we need someone in America who can lead the war against terrorism.
“Obama, during his campaign, has paid attention to Afghanistan and we think this will make a big difference. He has promised to take troops out of Iraq and put them in Afghanistan. He will bring a change”.
“Change” was also the watchword in the remote province of Bamiyan in the central highlands of Afghanistan.
Though less affected by the security situation, Bamiyan has seen a dwindling number of tourists due to deteriorating security in adjoining areas.
Hotelier Razaq was huddled around the TV with his friends on the cold late autumn morning watching the results on Al Jazeera in his hotel, The Roof of Bamiyan, which overlooks the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban.
|Razaq, a hotelier in Bamiyan, says he thinks Obama ‘has a good policy towards my country’|
“This is history. It is unbelievable. It is a new day for the whole world,” he said.
“I am one of the strong supporters of Obama in Afghanistan. I think he has a good policy towards my country as well as towards the border region of Afghanistan-Pakistan and will deal with the problems in Pakistan.”
Successive Republican administrations had failed to deal with problems emanating from Pakistan because, Razaq believes, they just continued to treat the country as “a good friend”.
With the country still deeply dependant on external aid, Western troops and American support, many Afghans were closely following the results on TV and radio, aware that their own futures were inextricably linked to that of the American election.
Mustafa Rawan, a young business manager living in Kabul, followed the unfolding drama, switching from TV to radio as the city power, scant even seven years after the Western intervention, ran out.
Obama’s promise to deal with al-Qaeda and the Taliban was his top priority.
Obama’s promise of bringing troops from Iraq to Afghanistan was reason enough to win Rawan’s backing and support, sentiments which he says are echoed amongst his friends and family.
Rawan hopes, however, that the new administration will seek to work with Afghans – consulting the people on policies – rather than act unilaterally.
“We still need the help of other countries and I hope Americans will provide it,” he said.
Referring to Obama’s promise to make Afghanistan a priority, Shahir Zahine, the managing director of Radio Killid, was all smiles.
“For eight years I was on the wrong side of history. I said, even then, that we should all be allowed to vote in the US elections because the faith of the US changes the faith of the world,” he said.
“Today it is a great message for America and a great message for the world.”
Zahine emphasised that the details of the US administration’s new strategy towards Afghanistan were yet to be articulated.
|Rawan, a business manager in Kabul, hopes the US will consult Afghans and not act unilaterally|
Wahed Hashimi, who works for a media development non-governmental organisation, feels the US needs to re-evaluate its strategy in Afghanistan to see what had worked and what had not.
“The fundamentals of the American policy will not change since this is decided by multinational corporations rather than individual leaders,” he said.
However, Hashimi believes change within America will also change its attitude towards the world and so have an indirect effect on other countries including Afghanistan.
Abdul Suboh Faizy, a political adviser to some Wstern diplomats, says the overwhelming desire for change forms a direct link between the two countries at this time.
“There has been a major gap between the people and the government of Afghanistan. The ordinary people have not seen the change they need in their lives,” he said.
“After the American polls there will be a change towards Afghanistan. When we go to the polls we will also be voting for a change.”