Waking Up to Terror

The “night letters” have been coming for a while now. I saw my first one last week, posted on a door in Kunar Province, on the Pakistani border. But its message was no different than the ones that, according to press reports, have been popping up overnight in most of the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, whether posted on mosques or government buildings, or at busy road intersections, or simply scattered onto streets: do not vote on Thursday, or we will punish you. Signed, the Taliban.

The theological claim is that good Muslims are not allowed to seek any state position for themselves, and it is “haram” — forbidden — to cast a vote for anyone who chooses to do so. Many of the letters also claim that the candidates represent Western interests that are trying to destroy Islam and Afghan culture. The message is amplified on radio broadcasts, Web sites and even over loudspeakers on trucks.

Even without the Taliban threats, those of us in eastern parts of the country would be plenty pessimistic. With former warlords running for office and the corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government filtering all the way down to our local administrations, it is hard to remain hopeful. People seem more politically aware than they did in 2004, but there are so many candidates this time — around 40 for president alone — that it’s hard to know what they stand for. And with the national radio and television slanting their coverage in favor of the president, we assume Mr. Karzai will win.

Mirwais Ahmadzai, a program manager with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.