One searing image of many to come out of Afghanistan on its historic presidential election day last Thursday sticks in the mind: that of a tousle-haired youth called Hamidullah balancing on the back of his brother’s bicycle on the way to a polling station.
Only 15, he had registered to vote in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, albeit illegally, for the first time in his life and he was eager to be the first to arrive at the polls.
He was 200ft from the football field where election staff had set up tents and cardboard polling booths when a Taliban rocket exploded, slicing half his face away. European Union observers passing in a fleet of armoured Land Cruisers ignored him and his wounded 18-year-old brother, Najubullah, and raced on.
Eventually, medics heaved his lifeless body into the back of an ambulance, leaving only his sandals strewn across the road and his black patterned skullcap next to a pool of blood.
in the end i marked the box of the candidate that i would not have voted for on a brighter, sunnier day. but since scary clouds were gathered up on the horizon, i thought i made the choice that would serve us all well at this juncture. these choices are never perfect, one learns. one learns too, that the quest for the perfect, the ideal -as i. berlin would tell you- is one of the most wrong-headed and dangerous of quests ever. then came the four page, 530-plus provincial council candidate ballot. what a confused mess. i knew the person i was voting for, but had forgotten her ballot number. it took me a good five minutes to look through the four pages and find her picture and name. i made a ’swad sahih’ -tick mark- and folded this too. then i went over and dropped these in the two designated ballot boxes indicated by green and orange sign papers. there were some tense looking people sitting on chairs a distance away from the ballot boxes. i told myself these could only be volunteer observers working for one of the campaigns. everyone looked less excited than i had thought, but i was filled with a mix of indescribable feelings -some of them having to do with the choices i had made, others with the fact of having had the opportunity, finally, to be part of it all. i bid everyone farewell and walked out into the blinding mid-day sun, and instantly started rubbing the ink off my finger. the ink, faint and almost unrecognizable earlier, had congealed into a black purple and was impossible to remove.