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Afghan man, 18, who has known only war, casts first vote with hope for peace

Murtaza, 18, voted for the first time in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. He said he said he hoped his vote could help make the country safer.

PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 28, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan — At 18, Murtaza is as old as the current war in Afghanistan, which started when the U.S. launched airstrikes targeting the Taliban, who were sheltering the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The war has dragged on to become America’s longest. For Murtaza, who, like many Afghans, goes by only one name, the violence and insecurity of war have been the backdrop of his life.

On Saturday morning, as many Afghans in the capital, Kabul, stayed at home, perhaps fearful of a Taliban attack or tired of seeing past votes do little to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans, Murtaza voted for the first time in his life. He wasn’t cowed by threats from the Taliban to attack polling centers and to cut off the ink-daubed fingers of those who did cast ballots.

“I was worried about insecurity this morning, but since our security forces promised they would provide a safe environment for the election, I decided to come out and vote,” Murtaza said.

“We need to participate in this election because it’s a way to bring peace to the country,” the young man told Stars and Stripes.

Afghanistan was named the most dangerous country in the world by the Institute for Economics and Peace this year. The United Nations recently said the number of civilians killed in 18 years of war was “shocking and unacceptable.”

More than 70,000 security forces were deployed around the country to ensure voters’ safety, news reports said.

High unemployment and Afghanistan’s floundering economy and corruption also troubled Murtaza, but he said the priority for most first-time voters he knew was to elect a president who might bring peace to Afghanistan — something they’ve never known.

“We want a person who will make our country fresh, like a flower,” he said.

A voter 50 years Murtaza’s senior agreed that Afghanistan needs a president who will try to end the bloodshed that has scarred the country since the Soviet occupation began in 1979 — just more than two decades before U.S. forces arrived in the country.

“If there is peace, Afghanistan would be wonderful again,” said Mohammad Gul, 68, who voted in east Kabul.

He recalled hiking freely in the mountains around Kabul when he was young and crossing paths with the former king once, who was on a hunting trip.

While he said the country was more secure and united then, he also said life has been much better since the U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in 2001.

“At least now I can vote,” Gul said. “This is an option I now have to try to take part in something that might make the country happy again.”

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @pwwellman

Hasiba, 19, prepares to vote in her first presidential election at a polling station in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

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