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Chasing Bashardost

Text by Leela JACINTO , reporting from Kabul

Latest update : 2009-08-18

On the final day of the Afghan presidential campaign, candidate Ramazan Bashardost is chasing time, while FRANCE 24's Leela Jacinto finds herself chasing him.

It's the last day of campaigning for the Afghan presidential election, and candidate Ramazan Bashardost is in a tizzy. A handful of volunteers are sweating it out in a Spartan tent on Kabul's Darulaman Avenue, which serves as Bashardost's campaign headquarters.

The candidate himself is locked in a meeting in the one-storey structure behind the tent.

Determined to get an interview with the populist planning minister who has captivated Afghan hearts and minds with his anti-corruption campaign, I sit it out in the tent, waiting for Bashardost to wrap up his meeting so I can interview him.

The noon-day heat is oppressive. Since I arrived in Kabul from Paris this morning on the last day of campaigning, I've been chasing campaign stops around town and haven't had the time to buy myself bottled water.

Big mistake. Bashardost's budget is so tight, even the mandatory Afghan tea is not around. Somebody brings out one bitter, over-boiled glass of tea. I share it with Imamuddin, my driver-cum-translator.

In an attempt to kill the time, I start interviewing the volunteers hanging around the tent.

Someone suggests I interview 21-year-old Ahmed Asif. A Kabul high school graduate, Asif hails from the dominant Pashtun tribe. Bashardost is a member of the oppressed Hazara minority. Asif's presence in the tent is a sign of Afghan national unity, and I am strongly urged to interview the young man, which I do.

Suddenly, candidate Bashardost comes tearing into the tent. For some reason, he's furious that there are media interviews going on here. Poor Asif is in the line of fire. An older volunteer intercedes, telling Bashardost that Asif was urged to talk to me since he's a Pashtun.

She can speak to all the Pashtuns she wants in the Pashtun areas, retorts Bashardost in Dari, not realizing or caring that I understand.

But then he gathers his cool and speaks to me in French. Bashardost, after all, has spent more than 20 of his 44 years in France after fleeing his war-torn homeland in the mid-1980s.

Last chance to use campaign funds

It's his last day of campaigning, he tells me, and he has some funds left in his campaign account. He's determined to use them to buy a TV advert before it's too late. And so, he has to rush to the bank, please excuse him.

I find this piece of information intriguing. The presidential candidate himself has to tear across town to withdraw campaign funds. I'm determined to climb in for the ride.

But no, I cannot get into the vehicle with him. There are loudspeakers affixed to the top of the mini-van and it will be blaring campaign speeches. It's deafening and not a recommended ride for journalists.

Can I follow his car from mine, then? By all means, says the candidate graciously.

That's when I experience the most harrowing ride of my life, through the streets of Kabul.

Bashardost's loudspeakers blast citations from the Hadiths, commentary on the prophet Muhammad deriving from oral traditions, as we weave through insane Kabul traffic. No campaign messages on the final day, just Hadith quotes.

In his car, Bashardost waves at nobody. Cynical Kabulis shopping in the bazaar do not cast a second glance at the Hadith-blasting blue van screeching through the streets.

By now, I am really scared. Imamuddin is chalk white, struggling to keep up with the van. I keep telling him to give up the chase. But Imamuddin is not one to give up the fight. I'm trapped.

Suddenly, a car full of Bashardost lackeys pulls up alongside us. The candidate is not going to the bank, they tell us. He is going on some personal business and does not want to be followed.

I'm relieved. It's personal business, I repeat to Imamuddin, who nods, yes, Bashardost is single, he's not married. Whatever that means.

Date created : 2009-08-17