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Democracy Champion Named Afghan 'Person Of The Year'

"My wife woke me up around midnight and said, 'Our daughter Drayem Gula has passed away'," Jawas Khan, an Afghan farmer recalled from the night last April when his youngest daughter died after a sudden illness.

"I told my wife not to mourn too loudly, and even told my brothers and cousins not to inform our neighbors and relatives of my daughter's death," Khan said of his initial reaction following the death of his beloved child who had died hours after falling sick on the eve of Afghanistan's presidential polls on April 5.

"I told them tomorrow (April 5) is the polling day, and voting is scheduled to end at around 4 p.m., and that we should not inform anyone about our loss until then. We will ask them after the voting is over to participate in the funeral," he said.

The next day, Khan's mother and wife stayed behind with his daughter's corpse in their village, Warzhali. His extended family went to the cast their ballots in a polling station many kilometers away.

Warzhali, a remote mountainous hamlet, is part of the Tani district in the southeastern Afghan province of Khost, which borders Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal district.

Jawas Khan's village Warzhali in southeastern Afghan province of Khost.
Jawas Khan's village Warzhali in southeastern Afghan province of Khost.

Khan, 38 and father of nine, made the extraordinary step to encourage his villagers to participate in last year's elections when millions of Afghan voters defied Taliban threats to repose confidence in their country's fledgling democracy.

His Tanai tribe, like most Afghans, has endured countless tragedies during the seemingly unending wars that have wracked Afghanistan since 1980. Khan, who never attended school, says he was determined to vote for his favorite candidate so that the youth of today have a safer, more prosperous future.

"I was determined to overcome my personal tragedy to prevent our country from being pushed into another catastrophic war," he said. "I will be ready to make similar sacrifices in the future."

Radio Free Afghanistan selected him as this year's 'Person of the Year' for his extraordinary faith in democracy and strong resolve to prevent his country from sliding back into war and anarchy.

Baz Umar, a neighbor, says their community is proud of Khan. "Jawas Khan demonstrated extraordinary courage and leadership," he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Another neighbor, Qamar Khan, said Khan's courage helped the entire community to cast their ballots in spite of local customs requiring them to make the funeral a priority over voting.

"We voted in the hope that the new president elected by our votes will rebuild our country and give us jobs," he said.

Jawas Khan still often visits his daughter's grave.
Jawas Khan still often visits his daughter's grave.

Radio Free Afghanistan's 'Person of the Year' is an annual award granted to individuals for their outstanding contributions to democracy, civil society and Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Former Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, Sikh rights campaigner Anarkali Honaryar, former princess and lifelong humanitarian Hindia d'Afghanistan, music maestro Ahmad Sarmast, lawmaker Ramazan Bashardost and media mogul Ihsanullah Bayat have received the honor in previous years.