Hopeful in Panjshir

Last Friday I was in the Panjshir Valley, about 50 miles north of Kabul, talking with a dozen of my relatives about their perceptions and expectations of the presidential election. Our discussion was all about the candidates’ platforms, promises, teams and abilities.

This was a huge change from the last vote, in 2004, when nobody was talking about ideas. That election consisted mostly of ethnic groups and political parties trying to show their strength. And most felt it was really a formality; there was a sense that the president had already been selected behind closed doors and that our votes did not make a difference. This time around, I found no one who said that the elections had no value to them, or that the winner had already been selected by foreigners. With the election just a few days away, I am still trying to decide who deserves my vote. What I am looking for is someone who can bring more enthusiasm and a greater feeling of hope among the people.

I also pay a lot of attention to the teams that the candidates have gathered around themselves. In Afghanistan, leaders — political, business, media or jihadi — have so much influence that their personalities can shape an administration. Looking at each candidate’s inner circle is a way of predicting how each would rule Afghanistan and of deciphering their priorities.

Another change for the better in this year’s election has taken place in the news media. Most of the candidates have been campaigning pretty fiercely through messages on TV and radio and in newspapers. It seems as if there is a televised debate every day, giving all sorts of candidates for various offices chances to be heard. And while President Hamid Karzai refused to take part in any televised debates until Sunday night, many of my friends said that an earlier debate involving two other contenders — Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani — led them to change their minds about whom to vote for.

Of course, people are still afraid of the Taliban — Saturday’s attack near the NATO headquarters in Kabul was certainly intended to increase the tension among voters. However, I’m still very hopeful; I feel that the real means of democracy are slowly taking root in our country, and that we may be able to achieve a more peaceful and better Afghanistan.

Ahmad Wali Arian, a human-resources manager.