Connect to share and comment
It may be an earthquake for Iran, but it is barely a tremor for most Afghans. While Kabul residents seem to be watching the riots in Tehran with interest, the central issue — a growing movement against a fundamentalist dictatorship — does not seem to register.
This may be because the fever pitch of the Iranian demonstrations is the cadence at which people here have been living for the past 30 years. A million angry people in the streets of the Iranian capital may make for good television, but it is not about to strike fear into the hearts of the doughty Afghans.
If anything, they are rooting for the embattled Iranian president. Certainly this is true of Hamed Karzai, who was one of the first world leaders to congratulate the Iranian on his victory.
But the rank and file also have a soft spot for the Tehran firebrand.
“If I were Iranian I would vote for Ahmadinejad,” said one young doctor, Nasim.
“Why on earth would you do that?” I asked with shock and dismay.
“He’s a dude,” shrugged Nasim, only half in jest.
I have seen many Afghans laughing indulgently at Ahmadinejad’s antics. In some cases, they applaud wholeheartedly. When the Iranian president called the Holocaust a myth, Aziz, a friend of mine, turned to me triumphantly and said, “See? I told you so!”
Most of my Afghan acquaintances watched with grudging admiration when Ahmadinejad defied the United States over Iran’s nuclear program.
“Why shouldn’t Muslims have the bomb?” was the general tone of debate.
Make no mistake — Afghans in general are not overly fond of their neighbor to the west. Tehran has been meddling for too long in Afghanistan’s affairs, and many people here chafe at what they perceive as Iranians’ cultural snobbery. The thousands of refugees who were forcibly expelled by Ahmadinejad certainly have no love for him or his country.
So there may be a bit of schadenfreude in the reaction on the ground here.
With a presidential poll of their own looming in just over two months, Afghans are not about to be shocked by rumors of electoral fraud. Most of them assume that their own president, like Ahmadinejad, will be swept into a second term by an overwhelming majority.
If Karzai does gain a first-round victory on Aug. 20, there is very little chance that the voters will pour out onto the streets in anger and disappointment.
This is not because the Afghan electorate will be pleased or even marginally satisfied with the results. Rather, it is a sign that eight years of corruption, violence and dashed hopes have left the populace too dispirited and disaffected to muster the energy to protest.
Afghans are not likely to take inspiration from the drama unfolding across the border. Rather, they may be wondering what all the fuss is about.
See here for an overview of local reaction around the world.