Afghan elections peaceful in Pakistan
* 50 percent voter turnout: International Organisation for Migration
* Afghans want peace at home
By Shahzad Raza
ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan exercised their right to vote in Afghanistan’s first presidential elections on Saturday under tight security.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the agency administering the election, declared around 50 percent voter turnout. The voting was simultaneously held in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Many voters said they voted for current Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Some told Daily Times that they voted for Mr Karzai because they want stability in their war-ravaged homeland.
The first Afghan to vote in Islamabad was 19-year old Moqadasa Siddiqui. “I am so very happy and proud. I hope that this election will bring peace to my country and I hope that my family will be able to return to our homeland,” she observed
The polls were peaceful throughout Pakistan, except for a few minor incidents in Peshawar and Hangu. The polling process was, however, not disrupted, said IOM Director for Out-of-Country Registration Peter Erben at a press conference.
He said voter turnout was good in Pakistan. “In Pakistan, the projected midday figure showed that 350,000 people had voted with four hours remaining before polling centres closed,” he said.
After polling concluded, the ballot boxes were sealed in the presence of IOM officials. They will be sent to Kabul under IOM supervision for vote counting.
IOM registered around 740,000 Afghan refugees in Pakistan to vote in the presidential election. In Iran, 600,000 registered Afghans voted. Mr Erben said IOM hopes for good turnout in Iran. In Pakistan, about 410,000 Afghans registered in the North West Frontier Province, 320,000 registered in Balochistan and 10,000 registered in Islamabad. Voters were not registered in Sindh and Punjab.
In Islamabad, a heavy police force was present at the capital’s four polling stations–two each for male and female voters. Inside the polling stations, Afghan origin security personnel conducted at least two body searches of everyone entering.
Voting began at 7am and concluded peacefully at 4pm. Before noon, a lacklustre response by voters was witnessed. However, a few hours before the end of polling, voters turned out.
“I have cast my vote in favour of Mr Karzai because I feel he is our president and can ensure stability in our country, which saw so many years of bloody conflicts,” said young Afghan refugee Ramin Hashmi. He said a majority of Afghan refugees living in Islamabad voted for Mr Karzai. He added that other presidential candidates were not as popular among the refugees as Mr Karzai.
Another Afghan refugee, Hafizullah Khan, who also voted for Mr Karzai, expressed hope that after the installation of an elected government in Afghanistan, the law and order situation would improve.
He said he and the majority of Afghan refugees wish to return to their homeland if there is an improvement in the law and order situation.