Campaigning in Afghanistan Involves Bribes, Gangland Politics and Murder


If Gialani is Herat's establishment candidate, Naheed Ahmedia Farid is the young upstart. She is only 24, the daughter-in-law of a prominent gynecologist who helps lead Herat's educated middle class. She received a masters degree at George Washington University and studied in Europe before returning to Afghanistan.

"I want to be a voice for women," she says when asked why she is running for office. "Because there was about 30 years, 31 years that women didn't have any voice. I think we have to change the situation for women and I want to be a member for that reason."

Farid's enthusiasm is unending. She holds rallies for hundreds of women, many of them lifting their burqas to cheer her on, and then stands at the exit to hand everyone a freebie with her face on it. She speeds off to a meeting with college students in her office, and then quickly heads to a private home to ask for support.

She wears green everywhere – a color that represents progress in Afghanistan – and is often wrapped in a beautiful chador, a full body covering popular in Iran, only 30 miles from this western Afghan city.

But she, too, faces the same kinds of intimidation and threats that Gialani and all female candidates suffer. She says she received calls telling her to drop out. She is the subject of similar rumors. While she was in the United States, a man in one audience asks, did she convert to Christianity? She travels with armed guards. Her campaign events are all held indoors, some down back alleys.

And her posters have been defaced, perhaps because she is Shiite, perhaps only because she is a woman. On one poster, her face has been cut out entirely. The Taliban never allowed women to be photographed.

"The situation of the security is very hard these days," she says in the back seat of her car in English, which she speaks well but not fluently. She speaks to an ABC News reporter sitting in the front seat. She said it would be too dangerous for her to be seen with him in the back seat. Earlier, she refused to speak English at all in a public place.

"These days it's very sensitive for us, especially for women, especially for women like me. People think I'm winning the election," she continues. "That's why there might be enemies that don't want me to win."

Afghan Candidate Says Rivals Bribes Entire Villages

Gialani has had to face another kind of threat from neighboring Iran. She says Iranian "agents" approached her father-in-law and offered to finance her campaign. She says he refused, but she insists at least two candidates in Herat accepted the help.

Across Herat, residents say their neighbor to the west constantly interferes in the local politics, and local police commanders accuse Iran of helping finance the Taliban. American military officials in Afghanistan are less accusatory, saying they have seen evidence that Iranians help fund insurgents, but do not know whether they are sent across the border on behalf of the Iranian government.

Farid's refusal of help has put her at a huge economic disadvantage. She says some of her male competitors have spent at least $5 million, an allegation confirmed by Western observers in Herat and Kabul. One candidate has used his money as a quid-pro-quo, offering to build a mosque and a bridge for a village in exchange for all of their votes.

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