South Asia

Afghanistan's most unusual parliamentary contenders

Campaigning has intensified in Afghanistan as the country's parliamentary elections draw closer.

About 2,500 candidates are standing for 249 seats in Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament, in polls on 18 September.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary meets three of the country's most notable contenders.

THE STAND-UP COMEDIAN

Image caption Mr Kabuli is known for satirising politicians

Zamir Kabuli has old ties with Afghanistan's ruling establishment. He made a living imitating and satirising politicians. But at 39, this stand-up comedian says he has had enough of their incompetence.

"We gave them (the politicians) the job to run this country. And see what they have done," Mr Kabuli says, pointing to a pot-hole in the street.

''No-one bothers about the people. Disaster - be it natural or man-made - politicians neither have the time nor the inclination to help the masses. So I decided to run (for parliament)."

Mr Kabuli has suffered for rubbing the politicians up the wrong way.

He was suspended from the state-run broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan a few years ago after he ridiculed the country's leadership and the parliament during a TV show.

''I was suspended just because I tried to depict the truth. Politicians have money and power but no sense of humour," he says.

On his campaign trail, Mr Kabuli enters a market, and speaks to an audience of children, shoppers and shopkeepers.

"Send me to parliament and I will solve your problems. I won't run away from you.

"Like that mountain, you will all know where to find me," he says, pointing at a snow-covered peak in the Hindu Kush range and generating laughs from the crowd.

As Mr Kabuli heads for his next campaign stop, a US soldier flags his car down.

The soldiers have blocked the road as they deal with a suspect parcel.

Mr Kabuli quietly obeys and switches off the car engine.

When the soldier is further away, Mr Kabuli says: "You have to respect the big brother or else... or else you get beaten up!''

THE TALENT SHOW STAR

Image caption Ms Tarana became popular after appearing on the Afghan Star TV show

Farida Tarana, 29, challenged religious hardliners when she appeared on Afghan Star, a popular talent contest on the private Tolo television network.

Some people in her home province of western Herat said she was a "bad Muslim" and brought shame on the region. She even had apples thrown at her.

But none of this deterred her from singing.

"Singing is my passion. I believe in what I do," she says.

Ms Tarana did not win - she came eighth out of 12 contenders - but the contest made her hugely popular. She then stood for a provincial council seat from Kabul and ended up as the runner-up.

"That's proof that people like me," she said.

Ms Tarana was a finance officer with Kabul Bank before she decided to move into politics. There is speculation in some circles that her bid for a parliament seat is sponsored by the Kabul Bank, but she denies this.

Ms Tarana says the election campaign reminds her of the time when she was appearing on Afghan Star.

"There were supporters and fans that were ready to do anything to see me sing.

"And then there were detractors who were willing to go to any length to see me shut up," she says.

As Ms Tarana gets ready for a campaign visit to Kakore village on the outskirts of Kabul, an aide politely informs her that she will have to cancel the plan because of an unspecified security threat.

Kakore village was the site of fighting between two tribes a week ago over land.

THE ENTREPRENEUR

Image caption Ms Anjila wants to push for laws which benefit women

Najila Anjila, 30, runs a logistics firm and gets major contracts from the international forces, charities and firms based in Afghanistan.

A few years ago, Najila was an employee, working for a few hundred dollars a month. But today she is a successful entrepreneur.

When the Taliban came to Kabul, Ms Anjila ran away to Karachi in Pakistan because of their treatment of women.

''There was little hope (in Afghanistan). Women were not allowed to study or work."

In Karachi, Ms Anjila studied for a master's degree in business administration (MBA), but says she was yearning to return to her country.

In Pakistan, she says she "was like a lost child, searching for my house, my family."

The fall of the Taliban gave her and millions of other Afghans the opportunity to return home.

Back in Afghanistan, Ms Anjila soon met Sohrab and they married.

"He is my biggest supporter. He only encouraged me to contest the elections," she says.

Ms Anjila says if elected, she would push for laws that advance the prospects of Afghan women.

"The Taliban phase was a dark period. We can't undo it.

"What we can do is ensure that women are never treated like chattel again. We owe this much to Afghan women," she says.