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As part of its election coverage plan, Pajhwok Afghan News is interviewing residents of all 34 provinces. Members of different age groups will be asked basic questions, such as whether they will participate in the August 20 presidential and provincial council polls, what they want the government to do and what their objections to official policies are.
PAN conducted voter interviews in four districts including the provincial capital of the western province, where the same queries were put to seven residents of different backgrounds. Herat province, bordering Iran, is the only industrialised area of Afghanistan. Over the last seven years, about 300 factories have been set up – most of them in Herat Industrial Park, according to Toryalay Ghausi, deputy head of the provincial association of industrialists.
These interviews were conducted in the first week of July.
An industrial manager: Great improvements, but too much corruption
One respondent is Ghulam Hussain, 32, a resident of the 7th police district in Herat City.
A deputy director at the Haq Dost Cable Company, he is determined to exercise his voting right. "I will definitely vote to play my role in the government-making process," he says. "Over the last seven years or so, the overall situation has greatly improved in Afghanistan, particularly in Herat, where hundreds of industrial units have been established.
"A huge investment has been made in the province, largely because of the policies of the democratically elected civilian government," he thinks. Hussein refers to the import of electricity from Iran and Turkmenistan to power the factories.
In the same breath, however, he points to the Karzai administration's weaknesses including widespread corruption in government departments and investor insecurity. This failure, according to him, is prompting entrepreneurs to rethink their willingness to invest more in the province.
Construction worker: Youth unemployment is core problem
Fazal Ahmed, 25, works for a construction company. Belonging to Marawa village of Pashtun Zarghun district, he is still reluctant whether or not to take part in the elections. He argues although many countries have their presence in Afghanistan, most of the youths remain unemployed.
He likens the present employment landscape to that witnessed during the communist regime. Even today, he believes, disenchanted youths continue to vote with their feet -- going to neighbouring countries in search of jobs.
Given an opportunity, Ahmed will ask President Hamid Karzai to create jobs for the unemployed and thereby help them eke out a descent living. He is confident this will help the government a great deal in arresting the ever-soaring crime rate and stepping up the reconstruction effort.
Technical student: Undecided and dissatisfied
Many dwellers of this industrial hub are yet to decide which candidates they will vote for. For example, technical institute student Elyas (20) has not yet made up his mind about who he will support in the presidential poll. Somewhat satisfied with the incumbent government's performance, he says administrative corruption is reversing the progress made so far.
Gravely concern at the deteriorating security situation, the student will vote despite his reservations about election transparency. He is of the opinion the elections will help promote a democratic culture in the country, something so important to posterity.
Returnee from Iran: Promises not kept
Haji Muhammad, living in the Shindand city centre, will vote for a candidate with strong ideas. The returnee from Iran wants the future president to eradicate graft and bring security to the impoverished country. He underlines respect for all political beliefs and philosophies. A contender endowed with initiative, drive, merit and governance skills should be elected to the top office, he maintains.
He accuses the present government of failing to keep its promises held out to the people of Shindand, where no worthwhile reconstruction schemes have been executed hitherto.
Nomad: Foreign forces create conflict
But a 38-year-old nomad thinks elections make no sense and will bring no benefit to Afghanistan in the presence of foreign forces. Ghulam Rasul, who brought his animals from Gulran district to Herat City for sale, fears rigging in the polls. Whoever is backed by international troops will win the ballot, he alleges. The foreign military presence is in conflict with the Afghan culture and religion, reasons the man, who slams the government for financial corruption, price hike and ubiquitous insecurity.
But he would not say how the situation could be rectified if he stays away from voting.
Housewife: Progress in utilities
Housewife Surayya views elections as the best way of turning around the current dismal situation. The third police district dweller is certain that a 100 percent voter turnout will automatically translate into complete security and development of Afghanistan. But she doesn't explain how.
The 26-year-old extols the Karzai administration for supplying uninterrupted power and potable water to the city. She cites the massive investment, reconstruction of roads and creation of recreational areas as achievements of the incumbent government. However, the housewife rails against the rulers for unchecked corruption and the culture of expediency and venality.
Schoolteacher: Education in a state of neglect
Bahari Fakoori, a teacher at a girls' high school in Ghoryan district, says her pupils have to study in tents under the scorching summer sun. The students are also facing a shortage of books. She urges the next president to focus on solving the problems facing schools across Afghanistan.