KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Eleven-year-old Siyar was staring out the glass windows of his family’s bodega Sunday when he saw his cousin, Rashid, passing by on his way home.
The two cousins briefly waved to each other as they each went back to their respective tasks. Siyar had only turned his back for a few seconds when he heard the sound of an explosion and saw the glass from the storefront come crashing down.
He hid behind the counter to protect himself from the falling glass, but his thoughts immediately turned to his 15-year-old cousin.
Siyar rushed out of the store, stepping over broken glass, as he headed toward the main road. It was there on the street, directly across from a center that distributed national IDs, tazkira, and voter registration stickers, that he saw Rashid’s lifeless body.
As he looked around at the chaos in front of him, the 11-year-old described a scene that has become all-too common in the Afghan capital, where security has taken a devastating downturn in recent years.
“It was horrible, unbelievable. There were bodies and body parts everywhere,” he told ThinkProgress.
Rashid was among 60 people — including nine children — who had been killedin Sunday’s attack by a suicide bomber claiming allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group. Immediately after the Sunday morning bombing, everyone from high-level officials, to heads of security and foreign commentators began referring to the attack as one targeting the democratic process in the country.
The destroyed remains of a store following the attack on Sunday. (Credit: Ali Latifi for ThinkProgress)
To the residents of Dasht-e Barchi, the West Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place, however, the bombing was yet another attack on civilians in the nation’s capital. Dasht-e Barchi and other neighborhoods in West Kabul, where a large proportion of the city’s Shi’a population resides, have come under repeated attack by forces claiming allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group.
As for how the attack would affect the democratic process, Sayeed Gul Agha, whose home was only a few minutes from the attack site, said the bombing was yet another reminder of how little the government has done for the people of the city.
“What government am I supposed to vote for — the one that has failed to bring security to even the capital?” the 77-year-old said. As an elder in the area, Gul Agha knew many of the killed and wounded.
Standing near the attack site, he was flanked by two posters of martyrs. One, only a few feet from Siyar’s family’s store, with 15-year-old Rashid’s picture on it. The other, commemorated the loss of Wakil Hussain Allahdad, a 33-year-old wrestler who was known to carry the dead and wounded after several attacks in the city.
An Afghan child stops in front of a sign displaying photos of martyrs killed in recent attacks. (Credit: Ali Latifi for ThinkProgress)
Pointing to the picture of Allahdad, known in the community as pahlawan, the wrestler, Gul Agha said, “He was a champion who was always helping others, but not even he could escape the calamity this time.”
Gul Agha said that if the Sunday morning attack proved anything, it is that no one should bother registering for October’s parliamentary election and the presidential polls in 2019.
“Our children are blown to pieces, and what do we get in return, maybe a few blast walls?”
Mohammad Hossein, a 21-year-old student who was traveling with his own tazkira in a pink plastic folder, disagreed with the elder’s assessment.
“Of course we should vote, because this what the enemies want,” he told ThinkProgress.
“They don’t want us to be able to determine our own future. I refuse to cower in fear,” he added. His friend Kabir, about 35, died in the attack. He was a guard at the center.
The Kabul bombing wasn’t the only one near a voter registration center on Sunday. Hours after the Dasht-e Barchi attack, a family of six was killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb near a registration center in the northern province of Baghlan.
But it’s not just the threat of attack that incites fear in potential voters. In a bid to cut down on the rampant corruption that plagued the 2009 and 2014 presidential elections, Afghan officials have decided that the new voter registration stickers would be affixed to the back of each person’s tazkira.
This practice could lead to significant security threats for Afghans traveling to the provinces and even to the districts of Kabul. The Taliban have been known to stop people traveling with government documents or any visible proof that they had taken part in the election process.
In the past, it was the blue ink dipped in the hands of a voter that posed a threat — during the 2014 presidential election, the Taliban were accused of cutting off the blue-stained fingers of 11 people in the Western province of Herat — but now, even possessing a tazkira could put people in danger.
As the tazkira is required for everything from opening a bank account to registering a sim card and other administrative tasks, it is often the only document with which many Afghans travel.
“I’m not registering. There’s no way I could go to [the eastern province of] Ghazni with that,” a friend of Gul Agha’s said as he overheard the elder’s discussion.
Even Mohammad Hossein, the 21-year-old who is determined to vote, conceded that traveling with the tazkira now poses yet another threat to an already fearful Afghan populace.
Unlike Gul Agha and his friend, Hossein hails from Bamiyan, considered to be one of the “safest” Afghan provinces, but the roads leading from Kabul to the central province — which cut through the provinces of Maidan Wardak and Parwan — are among two of the most dangerous in the country.
“I guess I will just have to start flying from now on,” Hossein said.
When asked how he would come up with the $200 required to fly to Bamiyan, Hossein shrugged his shoulders.
A sign outside the voter registration center where Sunday’s attack took place now reads “This land of suicide bombings is forever closed.” (Credit: Ali Latifi for ThinkProgress)
“I have no choice, I will just have to find the money.”
The danger presented by affixing the voting sticker to a tazkira is not lost on election workers.
At a voter registration center in a central Kabul mosque, an election worker in his 20s who would not give his name since he is not authorised to speak to the media admitted to the danger.
“I guess the people making these decisions don’t realize that the average person has to travel by road, they think everyone can fly everywhere like they do.”
But nothing seems to embody the dangers now associated with voting than the banner hanging above the door of the destroyed ID card and voter registration center.
It reads, “This land of suicide bombings is forever closed.”