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From Panjshir to Kabul, in testosterone zone

Text by Leela JACINTO , reporting from Kabul

Latest update : 2009-09-04

FRANCE 24’s Leela Jacinto arrives at Presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign headquarters just as the first post-election salvo is fired in the new war of words.

Below the enormous sign proclaiming, “Maimana Hotal (sic) and Restaurant,” armed guards frown and block my progress.

This city could do with more English copy-editors and fewer armed men. But no matter, it’s time for another charm offensive on yet another armed Afghan.

This hotel is now entirely occupied by Afghan presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's campaign staff.

The guards go crazy, asking me for “Camera? Camera?” I show them the little digital camera I have and turn it on to try to reassure them. But it doesn’t. “Camera? Camera?” they ask digging through my bag like hens pecking around for grain.

This time, I feel conciliatory. Abdullah, after all, was a close associate of Ahmed Shah Masood, Afghanistan’s resistance hero, who was killed by al Qaeda suicide bombers posing as journalists two days before the 9/11 attacks. The explosive device was in their TV camera. These guys still seem to be reeling from Sept. 9, 2001.

But when they start their next litany of “Pakistani? Pakistani?” I get very firm and insist “HINDUstani,” – the Afghan word for Indian. I just want to get into the building and if these guys think I’m a Pakistani journalist, I might be here all morning.

The sixth floor of the building, from where the Abdullah campaign high-command operates, is a testosterone heavy zone. Fierce, old-style guards with pakhools - the flat beret-like headgear that Masood favored - stalk the place, looking menacing. They should be in the Panjshir, circa 1999, not in these corridors. If this is the hope for a new, democratic Afghanistan, I suddenly feel depressed.

But no matter, I have a job to do. Paris has just called to say Karzai’s campaign manager said HIS candidate has won an outright majority in Thursday's poll and there’s no need for a run-off. It’s the sort of thing news-desks in Paris and New York hear before the folks on the ground. I storm through the office, seeking a reaction.

But it’s barely 10am in Kabul, the day after a tense, high-stakes election and everyone seems caught off guard – even the guards. “Karzai has lost the election, but probably he may win the corruption,” offers one campaign staffer grandly.

At one end of the room, a sizeable projection screen provides live updates of the vote count from various provinces. Very impressive. The local TV network should take media classes from this campaign office.

But this is not the official count. It’s the count coming in from Abdullah’s observers posted at the polls. These figures show Abdullah hovering between 60% to 63% and Karzai skirting 32% to 34%.

I haven’t been there yet, but I get the feeling it’s quite the reverse at Karzai’s campaign headquarters. So here starts the war of words – and of self-generated figures. This time, I'm ducking for cover.



Date created : 2009-08-21