Given security concerns and a lack of resources, it is not surprising that most of the analysis of the lead up to the elections is highly Kabul-centric (there are of course some exceptions such as this Reuters piece on political maneuvering in Kandahar or this NYT piece on the North). To suggest some of the range of opinions and approaches that might be missing from these current conversations, we asked a researcher who conducted interviews in both Nangarhar and Kabul province to contrast some of the issues from each region:
1) Secure versus insecure areas: While all respondents were aware that insecure areas would impact the elections, those in Jalalabad in particular, perhaps due to the close proximity of pockets of insecurity, were more acutely aware of the line between secure and insecure areas. Areas such as Sherzad were pointed to as places where even if insurgents did not directly threaten polling stations, people were still likely to be afraid to vote. Concern about this was heighten by questions about where polling stations would be opened or closed. Unsurprisingly most in Kabul were less acutely aware of the impact of closing polling stations.
2) Varying support for presidential candidates: Presidential candidates clearly have areas where they are going to gain a large percentage of their support, though the case of Nangarhar reflects some of the interesting nuances in how voters see candidates. Logically, many in Nangarhar supported Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun with many Ahmadzai supporters in the area. However, Ghani’s selection of Dostum, a notorious Uzbek commander, was criticized much more vocally here than in Kabul, with some suggesting that the vice presidential candidate would sway their ultimate decision (for more see this Washington Post piece). Given the careful ethnic balances constructed on the tickets of most of the major candidates, a closer look at how this plays out in varying provinces is likely to be revealing, though may not be truly visible until initial results are announced.
3)Varying levels in interest in Provincial Council elections: In both provinces there were varying levels of interest in PC elections, with perhaps slightly more interest in Nangarhar. Particularly among younger respondents, there was an interest in younger candidates who were contrasted with those members of the generation who had fought against the Soviets. In both areas, however, there were still many who thought that the elections that mattered the most was the presidential vote.
4)Concerns about the ultimate consequences: With a limited sample size, it’s difficult to get much more than a sense of what some of the differences might be, but based on these interviews respondents in Nangarhar seemed to feel that the potential consequences of corrupt, non-transparent elections were more sever. Multiple respondents seemed to suggest that civil war or at least an increase in instability were possibilities if the elections did not proceed well. These were sentiments heard less frequently in the interviews conducted in Kabul.