The tigers are in town

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan – It's election time and the international circus has descended on Kabul. For many Afghans, the foreigners are unfathomable creatures, and as FRANCE 24's Leela Jacinto discovers, they're ready to just watch the show.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 6:45 am

Two German soldiers from NATO showed up our house gates early this morning.

The watchman, or chowkidar as they are called in Afghanistan, freaked out when he opened the little window at the side of the gate to see two burly white soldiers, armed to the teeth, a wireless mike connected to their maws.

He rushed around asking the internationals in the house to talk to the soldiers. This, I guess, was because of an unavoidable but sad fact of living in a country secured by foreign troops: Afghans are more suspect than internationals in their homeland. The chowkidar knew that his word would not count for as much as an international's.

At checkpoints across the city, Afghan police officials stop cars and peer into the vehicles, and when they see internationals — aid workers, journalists, the motley crowd that frequents war zones — they wave us through.

Turns out, the German soldiers came by to inquire about the music we were playing last night. We set the record straight: we were not playing music. The Hindi film songs blaring last night were from our Afghan neighbours' wedding celebration.

The soldiers could not be softened. Don't live in neighbourhoods where Afghans live, it's dangerous, they told my housemate.

This is the funniest thing I've heard since I got here. Neighborhoods with Afghan residents are safe; the ones crammed with internationals aren't.

Folks are going crazy here. The internationals above all. The United Nations and the European Union have moved many of their staffers living around Kabul to the heavily fortified UN compound in the heart of the city. Several nongovernmental organisations have asked their international staffers not to show up for work in the next few days. Election-time security jitters.

The Afghans, though, seem to be going about their work. At least the adults are. Many Afghan schools are closed, so parents are definitely playing it safe. Like parents the world over. But when I ask Kabul residents if they are scared and if they're afraid to vote on Thursday, they just laugh and say no.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 3:30 pm

The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan is holding a press conference in the Bamiyan room of the Hotel Intercontinental, the hulking, Soviet-esque building overlooking western Kabul.

The foreign and national press is out in full force. But there's a wall separating the international journalists from their Afghan counterparts.

I meet my old Afghan journalist friends. They are warm, express utmost pleasure to see me again and take the time to fill me in on the minutiae of Afghan political and warlord scheming. After four years, my on-the-ground gossip is rusty, but with face-splitting smiles, they patiently dish out the dirt.

The international set, on the other hand, seem to have emerged from another planet. They tend to be tough, impatient and rude. Of course, it's not intentional; it's a tough job being a reporter on the ground. They're stressed because the city is coming under attack, they have deadlines to make and suits in the head office demanding more.

My friend Babak, a serene, superb journalist who works for Afghanistan's leading news wire service, is enjoying the show. His policy, he tells me, is not to even try to compete with the international press set.

"I told my colleagues at work," says Babak, "now it's election time, just lie low. The tigers are in town."

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