KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Tooryalai Wesa knows all too well the dangers of being a politician in Afghanistan.
The Afghan-Canadian, who has returned to his homeland to take up duties as the governor of Kandahar province, was sitting in his office when suicide bombers attacked the gate of the sprawling governor’s palace in April.
“April 25,” he says, more precisely.
Wesa says he didn’t feel he was the specific target of the attack, but most of the thousands who have been killed in this warring nation could say the same.
He admits the security situation is a problem: “Some days are good, some days are bad.”
But Wesa is optimistic about Thursday’s presidential and provincial council elections, in which he’ll cast his first-ever ballot in Afghanistan.
“I’m thrilled about it. I think it will be a wonderful day,” he says.
But Taliban insurgents are already casting a shadow over the upcoming vote, threatening death to those who go to the polls.
In the past few weeks there have been three attacks in Kabul, the capital, including a suicide bombing outside the gate of the NATO headquarters last weekend that killed seven civilians.
Posters plastered throughout Kandahar in recent weeks warn that people who participate in the election will “fall prey to our tactics,” but Wesa is not swayed.
“It’s not only a war of weapons, it’s also a verbal war,” he says in an evening interview in his office. Despite the hour, there are several people sitting outside the door, waiting to see him before his day is done.
But Wesa says Afghans know too well that the Taliban is not in any position to run a country.
“They will be busy with these sporadic ambushes, sporadic shootings, the IEDs, assassinations,” he says. “People know … they will never be in a position to take over the country, and rule the country.”
However, there are increasingly questions about whether or not the government of President Hamid Karzai is up to the task, either. Almost eight years after the Taliban were removed from power, most Afghans say they’ve seen little improvement in their lives.
In Kandahar, some have intermittent electricity but most go without. A generous estimate of the unemployment rate would be 50 per cent, and insurgent bombs kill dozens every month.
And in this place where thieves once lost their hands to Taliban justice, crime has become rampant.
“Crime here is the consequence of unemployment,” says Wesa. “If people have no jobs, they can’t feed their families.”
The jobless either join the insurgents, who pay them to wield a weapon, or they steal, he says. And international aid hasn’t yet created the needed work.
“Show them roads that have been built, show them electricity has increased, that transportation has improved, education has improved.”
There’s a 30-year gap in education in the country, and Wesa appeals to other Afghan-Canadians who fled decades of fighting to come home to Afghanistan and bridge that gap.
“There are thousands like me living overseas, doing blue-collar jobs – pizza deliver, cab driver, dish washer,” he says.
“There are thousands of medical doctors, there are thousands of engineers. They have families here, they have connections here. They don’t need interpreters, they don’t need insurance, they don’t need any guidance…. We have to have educated people.”
But he says progress has been made, and proudly recounts a recent soccer tournament in the city that drew thousands every night to the stadium where the Taliban once executed people.
Teams from all over the country played until well after dark. The Kandahar team won gold and bronze medals; Farah ,the silver.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for people to remember what kind of situation they had seven years ago, and what kind of situation they’re in today,” he says.
There were no doctors, schools, or proper hospitals, he says. Now people are looking forward, with hope of a better future.
“I remember my family living here in Kandahar were travelling to Quetta to make a phone call overseas. There was no telephone facility.”