Pakistan Waits For Afghan Election Results

Leaders in Pakistan are watching the presidential election in Afghanistan on Thursday very closely. The two countries are neighbors, but they've not always been friends. That's largely because of the activities of Taliban insurgents in the mountains that straddle their border.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. No one's watching today's election in Afghanistan more closely than the leaders of Pakistan. The two countries are neighbors, but they haven't always been friends, largely because of the activities of Taliban insurgents in the mountains that straddle their border. NPR's Philip Reeves has been finding out who Pakistan wants as Afghanistan's next president.

PHILIP REEVES: The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has never been easy. The Afghans have accused Pakistan of failing to stop Taliban fighters sneaking onto their turf. Pakistanis feel the many years of conflict in Afghanistan gave birth to the violent Islamist extremism now blighting their own nation. The Afghans suspect Pakistani intelligence of manipulating the Taliban insurgents they're trying to crush. The Pakistanis think the Afghans are playing host to spies from their old enemy India. And there's more.

Yet Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador, thinks the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is in better shape now than it was when General Pervez Musharraf was Pakistan's president.

Mr. TARIQ FATEMI (Former Pakistani Ambassador): My personal view is the relations between Zardari and Karzai are far better than they were between Musharraf and Karzai.

REEVES: Asif Ali Zardari took over for Musharraf last year. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai was the only foreign leader invited to attend Zardari's oath-taking ceremony. Fatemi says that signaled a change in relations. He thinks Zardari's government now wants Karzai to be reelected.

Mr. FATEMI: The Pakistanis have worked with Mr. Karzai. They know him very well. I think the establishment in Islamabad will be quite satisfied to see Mr. Karzai return to power.

(Soundbite of door shutting)

Unidentified Man #1: Hello.

Unidentified Man #2: Hi. Good afternoon. How are you?

REEVES: This is the office of Afghanistan's ambassador in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. The ambassador's not here.

This is his office here. His desk here.

Mr. MAJNOON GULAB (Acting Ambassador, Afghanistan): Yeah, this is the office of our ambassador. I'm just acting ambassador in the capacity of charge d'affaires.

REEVES: That's Majnoon Gulab. He's in charge because the ambassador's being held hostage somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan's tribal belt. The ambassador was kidnapped 11 months ago in the Pakistani frontier city of Peshawar. He was on his way to take up his new post. Gulab agrees relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are better these days, but the ambassador's kidnapping is evidently a sore point. Gulab says his government's pressing Pakistan to find him.

Mr. GULAB: They are always assuring us that they are trying their best and they have made some progress. So in this case we are waiting for the result, because the result has not happened yet. So we hope that his safe and sound release takes place.

REEVES: There are roughly 1.7 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. The last time Afghanistan elected a president, in 2004, arrangements were made to allow these refugees to vote in Pakistan. This hasn't happened this time.

Afghanistan's government-appointed independent election commission says it would've cost $50 million and that international donors couldn't find the money. The commission says security concerns in Pakistan were also a factor. The refugees could theoretically vote today if they traveled back to Afghanistan. Most couldn't afford the journey.

Mr. MOHAMMED GOUL (Refugee): (Through translator) It's a miserable life here in Pakistan, especially in this place.

REEVES: This is one of those refugees. His name is Mohammed Goul(ph). He works in a fruit market in Islamabad and lives here in a slum on the city's edge, along with 10,000 other Afghans and a multitude of cattle, goats and stray dogs.

Goul lives in a low mud hut surrounded by a sea of trash and fetid pools of water. He's been in Pakistan since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Goul longs for the day when he feels it's safe enough to return to his home city of Jalalabad.

Mr. GOUL: (Through translator) I have a dream of my land. I have the feeling of my land, my family, my relatives who are (unintelligible). I would like to be with them.

REEVES: Goul's disappointed that he wasn't able to vote in today's election.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: A crowd of Afghan men has gathered. They're Pashtuns like Hamid Karzai. They know who they would've voted for.

Unidentified Man #4: All of them. All of them would vote for Karzai. (Unintelligible) he is our president. He is our president.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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