The turbulent district of Andar has been caught in one kind of crossfire or another for years: between American forces and insurgent leaders, between warring militant factions, between those hostile to the national government and those courting it. Over the past year, it has become clearly divided. One side is controlled by the government, which found a foothold here after an anti-Taliban uprising began in 2012; the other is still ruled by the Taliban, which operates openly. On Election Day, April 5, votes were cast in high numbers throughout Andar. Government officials hailed the news as a triumph for Afghan democracy in a place where only three valid votes were recorded across the whole district in the 2010 parliamentary elections. To a degree, that judgment was justified. Many residents in this remote corner of Ghazni Province said they felt marginalized in the last election, and they were determined to see their votes count this time, despite the risks.
“People outside of Afghanistan may think that Afghans don’t know how important a vote is,” said Khial Hussaini, a former member of Parliament from Andar. “But this time we proved that we know the importance of democracy.”
But as always in Andar, there is another side. A review by The New York Times found that polling centers in more than half of the host villages either were closed or had little to no activity on Election Day, even though they submitted thousands of votes.
The fraud is tied to poor security. For that reason, using Andar — or any of the dozens of other similarly contested districts across the country — as an indicator of democracy’s chances in Afghanistan is problematic.