April 19, 2012 —
Afghan National Policeman Sher Agha (left) searches an Afghan elder before clearing him to enter the Garmsir Agricultural High School and vote in district community council elections here, April 17, 2012. (Photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)
GARMSIR DISTRICT, Afghanistan (April 19, 2012) — The Hazar Joft Bazaar was unusually quiet for a weekday morning. Rows of shop doors remained locked. Commercial chatter was minimal. Both workers and patrons seemed to be nonexistent.
Less than a kilometer away, an enormous gathering outside the Garmsir Agricultural High School revealed the reason for the bazaar’s inactivity. Thousand of Afghans spread throughout Helmand province’s Garmsir district traveled to Hazar Joft to vote in district community council elections here, April 17, 2012.
The elections were first conducted under the guidance of coalition forces in 2009. At the time, DCC seats represented only Afghan citizens in the northern portion of Garmsir surrounding its district center.
In subsequent years, Afghan and coalition forces increased security, allowing district governance to expand further south and reach into Banadar, the southernmost area of Garmsir.
During the current elections, the voting process and ballot counting were controlled and carried out by Afghans. Village elders accounted for more than 2,200 votes to fill 34 DCC seats.
Hajji Abdul Bashir, an elder from Kharako village in northern Garmsir, said the democratic process was a breath of fresh air to citizens previously held captive under insurgent rule.
“The elections were very important for the people of Garmsir,” Bashir said. “In the past, we’ve either lacked a leader or had too many of them. Whoever was the richest or had a rifle became the leader, but now, citizens from all over Garmsir have the opportunity to vote for our government.”
Around the city center, approximately 200 members of the Afghan National Security Forces worked to secure the voting site. They carried out the security plan they had devised, searching shops, vehicles and foot traffic while Marines with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, simply observed from the periphery.
“Without our thorough security plan, there wouldn’t have been a peaceful place to vote,” said ANA Lt. Col. Zahir Shah, the executive officer of 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps. “The people of Garmsir saw their forces around the city providing them security … and they felt safe because they saw their security with their own eyes.”
Despite reports of potential insurgent activity during the elections, the event transpired without any incident. Bashir acknowledged this safe environment as a sign of progress in Garmsir.
“Five years ago, there were a lot of bad men here and no real government,” Bashir said. “I prayed to God that we’d be freed from insurgent rule and receive governance. Today, we have village elders, elections and shuras to discuss issues. It will be a long process for our government to operate on its own, but we have security today … and our government is continuing to grow.”