Former Afghanistan Today writer Khushqadam Usmani who ran as a candidate for the Badakhshan Provincial Council in the April 5 elections this year talks about what he will do if he is elected. Clinics, roads and
mani, independent candidate for provincial council in Badakhshan. Honesty, faith, service to people and patriotism.' The lowest caption reads: 'A new face for a new beginning'. (Photos: Courtesy of Khushqadam Usmani) - See more at: http://www.afghanistan-today.org/article/?id=677#sthash.t4ORY9s3.dpuf
Three weeks ago I stood as a candidate for the Badakhshan Provincial Council. Despite having hardly any financial backing, receiving threats from other figures and being unable to reach many destinations during my campaign, I'm still optimistic on the eve of the IEC's announcement of elections results. In terms of policy, what I will focus on if I am elected is outlined below:
1. Economy: Balanced economic development in pursuit of building infrastructure, reconstructing roads to villages, exploiting mines lawfully, building bridges and strengthening transportation facilities. I would also try to bring drinking water to people in remote areas. I would distribute enough seeds to farmers in a timely manner to help the agricultural and livestock sectors for the growth of the local economy.
2. Education and culture: I would try to improve the quality of education and build more schools, defend the rights of teachers and students, including paying teachers their salary on time. I would make sure education materials were brought to schools in a timely manner. Other key policies of mine in these sectors would include getting assistance to build holy places, fair distribution of scholarships, defending the freedom of and improving local media and defending Women's Rights.
3. Health: My main priority would be to try and get assistance in equipping and building clinics in remote areas.
4. Youth: I strive to create education opportunities, employment and chances to grow in sport, alongside educational and vocational courses. I would help establish social associations, fight corruption and ensure meritocracy.
5. War victims and the disabled: I would support and enact the timely distribution of assistance for the disabled and the families of war victims.
No doctor's orders
Khushqadam Usmani, front row -centre - in the light blue trousers, on a visit to a rural district during his campaign.
Among the five issues I would focus on in my first year, my priority would be supporting clinics in remote rural districts. Clinics in many areas do not have any good medication. You'll only find some tablets and some are already expired or are of very poor quality. I was invited by Khaleefa Aleem, a community leader, to the village of Aameran. When we met, he seemed ill and I asked him why. He told me that he had had a headache for two hours. I told him to take a pill but he said that they went all over the village to see if they could find a Paracetamol. They could not. I had some Paracetamol for my own use, which I gave to him.
There are 80 households in Aameran village. The closest place with a health post is 12 kilometers away: You can only walk to reach the clinic. Local residents in Aameran told me that the majority of women die while giving birth. Khaleefa Aleem, as the community leader, asked me to focus on the education of their children if I win. There is only one secondary school in their area and there is only one individual with an associate degree in teacher training in their village. They said that they all had hard lives, but that they want their kids to be able to live with ease and freedom. They hope their kids get a chance to enjoy life just as others do.
Whole districts forgotten
Yet the village of Aameran is just an example. In another village called Sadodag, I talked to many people who still do not have identification cards. They said that their fathers and mothers did not have identification cards and they do not either. According to Abdul Jabar, chairman of the council in this area, the government pays no attention to this place.
Usmani and his team crossed mountains and climbed rocks to reach remote districts during the campaign. One of the former Afghanistan Today writer's main policies is to strengthen transport infrastructure in remote areas.
"Over many years, we have never seen a government official come here to address the problem of roads," he told me. These people do not participate in the elections since they do not have voter registration cards. Among 60 households, there are only 20 people with voter IDs.. But these individuals got their cards from another district called Sheghnaan and since the polling station was too far away, they also couldn't participate in the election in the end.
Promoting meritocracy is also on my agenda. This is a big problem facing today's youth. Those who have networks and know people get jobs, while poor people and individuals with no connections remain unemployed and cannot get jobs in the government. My other focus would be education, the quality of education in schools in particular. In many rural districts the quality of education is very poor. The majority of teachers are illiterate people with power.
"High School graduates can barely read"
High School graduates can barely read. The majority of these students do not make it in the entrance exam to universities. This issue has caused most of them to migrate to Iran for work. Many young men migrate to make some money, hoping to return with fees for a private school. But will they return afer experiencing the harsdhips of life as an economic migrant abroad?
There is economic potential in our very own province. If elected, I will try to exploit mines in a lawful and technical way and create employment and revenue. Currently, all mines are illegally exploited by people with power.
What I have mentioned so far are the main demands of my constituents and my priorities should I get elected. Before my campaign, I too did not have much information as I did not get to travel to remote places and border districts too often. After travelling to these areas, I found out that the government of Afghanistan has not paid attention to these places. For instance, we have beautiful and equipped clinics in many places, but we do not have doctors nor medication.
The reason for this negligence in certain areas could be because elected members of the provincial council did not really care or simply because of rampant corruption. I haven't much to fight this other than my will and good connections with the media. I can gather evidence and disseminate it through the media. This way, I will pressure authorities and they will have no choice but do something about it.
Engaged youth either way
Usmani on a break from campaigning with his team. Most of the independent candidate's campaign team members were former students.
Whatever the outcome of the election, I will be the only candidate that got 5 to 20 votes from every single polling station across Badakhshan Province. The reason is that my students are all over the province and they at last have cast their votes for me. Most importantly, in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan Province, I was second or third in terms of the number of votes in every single polling station.
Women mostly voted for me. It seems like young people and women in particular want some fundamental changes to happen in the provincial council. People from rural areas do not have this level of awareness. In rural areas, men make the decisions. Women have no choice and say when it comes to their votes. Therefore if I get elected, I will serve all the people of Badakhshan province. What I always think about is the poor who never got to enjoy life the way others have enjoyed it.
However given the limited authority of provincial councils, this provincial council will not be able to do much when it comes to addressing the problems of the people of Badakhshan. Maybe I will not be able to deliver much as far as my promises are concerned, but nothing will stop me from doing my best.