Subscribe
An election worker in Kabul waits for voters to cast their ballots in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

An election worker in Kabul waits for voters to cast their ballots in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

An election worker in Kabul waits for voters to cast their ballots in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

An election worker in Kabul waits for voters to cast their ballots in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

On the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir, 36, displays his ink-covered finger, indicating he voted in the countrys presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

On the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir, 36, displays his ink-covered finger, indicating he voted in the countrys presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Afghan security officials question a man at a polling center in Kabul on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. There was heightened security throughout the country to protect the voting process.

Afghan security officials question a man at a polling center in Kabul on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. There was heightened security throughout the country to protect the voting process. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

A police officer searches a man near the entrance of a polling center in Kabul on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

A police officer searches a man near the entrance of a polling center in Kabul on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Ghulam Hazrat, 80, votes in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, with the help of his son.

Ghulam Hazrat, 80, votes in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, with the help of his son. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

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.

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)

A woman votes in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

A woman votes in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

A man casts his ballot in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

A man casts his ballot in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Hasiba, 19, prepares to vote in her first presidential election at a polling station in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

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)

Shakila, 20, an election worker at a polling station in downtown Kabul, waits for women to vote in Afghanistans presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. She sits near signs that say "Voting area / women."

Shakila, 20, an election worker at a polling station in downtown Kabul, waits for women to vote in Afghanistans presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. She sits near signs that say "Voting area / women." (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

An election worker checks prospective voter Mohammed Bashir, 54, using a biometric scanner during Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

An election worker checks prospective voter Mohammed Bashir, 54, using a biometric scanner during Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Hasiba, 19, prepares to vote in her first presidential election at a polling station in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

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)

A voter prepares to vote in Afghanistan's presidential election at a polling station in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

A voter prepares to vote in Afghanistan's presidential election at a polling station in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

Banin Razayee, 19, shows an ink-covered finger, indicating she voted in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

Banin Razayee, 19, shows an ink-covered finger, indicating she voted in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

An Kabul resident dips his finger into ink to indicate he voted in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

An Kabul resident dips his finger into ink to indicate he voted in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

 A woman is identified before voting in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

A woman is identified before voting in Afghanistan's presidential election on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

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

author picture
Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up