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Eerie calm precedes Afghanistan's day of reckoning

Text by Leela JACINTO , Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan

Latest update : 2009-08-19

A tense calm has gripped Kabul on the eve of Afghanistan's critical elections. FRANCE 24's Leela Jacinto discovers that with the media ban concealing reports of attacks, the calm appears to be at least partially state-enforced.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 – 9 am

On the eve of Afghanistan’s landmark elections, there’s a sense of apprehension in the air. August 19 also happens to be Afghan National Day, so it’s a public holiday. Schools, offices, and most shops are shut down in the Afghan capital of Kabul and residents seem to be staying at home.


Kabul’s notorious traffic has calmed down this morning. But although the streets are largely empty, it still takes ages to get from one part of the city to another. Cars are being frequently stopped by Afghan police officials and security is tight.


But that did not stop an attack at a local bank this morning. Gunfire could be heard from the building, but there was no word of casualties – yet. The Taliban have claimed the attack – as they usually do. Afghan police officials however say it was a criminal gang. This is a familiar story in Kabul. There are a number of criminal gangs operating in the Afghan capital. But the Afghan Interior Ministry tends to frequently blame unnamed criminal gangs for a number of incidents.


The difference though is that, this time, my driver Imamuddin has not heard about the attack. Imamuddin is hooked to the local radio stations blasting in his car, so when I tell him about the attack, he’s surprised he hasn’t heard the news. The media ban seems to be working here.


Yesterday, after a particularly grim series of attacks in and around the capital as well as the troubled southern region, the Afghan government issued a statement banning national and local media from covering attacks. International rights groups promptly criticised the move of course. But the Afghan government insists it was intended to "ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people" in tomorrow’s poll. We’ll have to wait 24 critical hours to see if that part of the deal works.



Date created : 2009-08-19