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"They scared the hell out of people"

Khushqadam Usmani
After an unsuccessful bid for the Badakhshan provincial council seat, AT's Khushqadam Usmani describes an unequal playing field where intimidation and fear of old power structures prevail.
20.06.2014  |  Faizabad

When I first registered to run for the provincial council in Badakhshan province, I remember one of my rival candidates asked me to resign and support him. He thought he had a better chance. I asked him why. After all, I have better education and a better record of serving my people, and am older and more active in the community. He did not have an answer. 

He said that I knew the difference between us very well. He comes from a highly respected family. Several years ago, people did not dare call him by his name out of respect and potentially fear. He said he was going to win even if I did not support him. 

He actually told the truth. In fact, it was a warning and a veiled threat – one that could have cost me my life. He comes from a family that has ruled since the fall of the last communist government in Afghanistan. They are still in power. They have hundreds of light and heavy weapons. They have many illegally armed men. 

As part of my campaign, I went on a tour of my district. After conducting an analysis of the situation, I lodged a complaint against the head of the intelligence agency of the district, voicing my concern over lack of transparency in the election process. This individual was a former commander in the area and is currently working as head of the district's intelligence agency. He issues official threats to those who work against the local establishment. 

The police are afraid of him. Even the area chief of police fears him. The current police officers used to be his soldiers. One of the police officers tore my campaign photos off the walls overnight in order to appease the intelligence officials working against me. 

My complaint made no difference. Everybody working at the local office of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) was from his team. They were working for him. They beat voters on the day of the elections. They scared the hell out of people. They threatened my monitoring team. 

Under the law, this individual should have been prosecuted based on my complaint. It never happened. Through media outlets, I criticized the IEC. 

I now have three explanations for why I did not make in the elections: 

1. There were not enough ballots. For nine thousand people, only one thousand and eight hundred ballots were sent. 

2. Powerful people who wear police uniforms interfered and abused their power. 

3. I did not have enough resources for my campaigns.

Some people think about money. Most are afraid of powerful groups and do not want to get harmed once the elections are over. 

I got three thousand and eight hundred ballots. For this reason, I am happy, because these ballots belong to the people of Badakhshan. I had at least eight votes in every polling station although I couldn't campaign in every area. 

In my personal opinion, I do not think I failed, since my rival who mostly resorted to citing his powerful connections also failed. The total number of his votes is not much different from mine. 

I intend to continue serving my community. This is only the beginning of other civic movements dedicated to improving Afghanistan. We are going to raise public awareness. Twice a week, I go to Aab-e-Bareek Village of Argo District to teach children for free. They are happy and their happiness makes me happy. They are the ones who can change the country's destiny. 

On a final note, I want to point out that after the initial voting results were in, most of the candidates who lost took to the streets to demonstrate. Some of them even insulted the governor of Badakhshan province. I did not participate in these demonstrations, since I know violence is not the answer to anything. I accept defeat, but I continue to work and fight for it. I am not going to give up. That is my goal.