17 Aug 2009

Freedom Train Status From Afghanistan

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Here’s something that surprised me:

Millions of Afghan women will be denied their chance to vote in landmark presidential elections this week because there are not enough female officials to staff the single- sex polling stations.

Despite more than £147million being spent on election aid, the shortage is threatening to undermine the legitimacy of the polls, which are the pinnacle of western efforts to build a peaceful democracy.

Women are not normally allowed to vote in male-run stations in the Muslim country. Afghans will select a president and members of provincial councils at the polls on Thursday.

The Taliban has threatened to attack voters as President Hamid Karzai battles to win another five-year term. Women’s activists said the Independent Election Commission, which is organising the polls, still needs to recruit 13,000 women before election day but the shortfall may be more than 42,000.

Without female staff to operate the strictly segregated stations, and more importantly, without female searchers to frisk women voters as they arrive at those stations, conservative men across the country will ban their wives and daughters from taking part. ‘If half of the population can’t participate, the election is illegitimate,’ said Orzala Ashref, of the Afghan Women’s Network.

No, I’m not saying that life must have been sweet under the Taliban. But I wonder how many Americans would support our continuing efforts in Afghanistan, if they knew the actual conditions of their democratic system.

I don’t have it handy, but recently I saw an astounding figure, where US and other forces were spending far more on military operations in Afghanistan, than that country’s entire GDP.

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