In the crisp dawn chill two men cautiously picked their way past the razor wire and through the police cordon. They made their way past the shuttered stalls, along the pot-holed pavement of Governors Road toward the polling station. We watched from high above in the rooftop sentry post, clad in body armour and helmets, clasping mugs of coffee, waiting with a sense of unspoken anticipation.

Unhurriedly the men approached the waiting officials huddled together over steaming cups of chai. A brief greeting, a shuffle of ballot papers, and within moments the first votes had been cast in Musa Qal’eh for the Afghan Parliamentary Elections.

It was, in some small way, another historic moment for a district that has rarely seen such exhibitions of open democracy. The 2009 presidential elections in Musa Qal’eh had been heralded by the launch of Taliban rockets. A year later, a wary trickle grew into a steady stream of those willing to step forward at one of six official sites across the district.

The efforts required by the district government and security forces had been staggering – flying in fifty-three election officials to recruit another hundred to man the polling stations, convoyed by police teams to all corners of the district to erect their stalls in time for election day. It was hard to grasp that these mighty efforts where repeated across every district in the nation.

Every hour or two we would return to that rooftop to watch the day unfold. We heard about tractor-driving farmers risking illegal checkpoints to cast their ballot in villages to the north. We heard reports of an attack on a polling site in the south that had incensed the local population – triggering a greater turnout in protest. We were amused to see the Mayor waving up at us, proudly showing off his inked thumb – proof of his vote. Over in the District Governor’s compound the counting went late into the night.

In all 1,648 people cast their votes. A humble turnout by any measure, but the number belied the real significance – that it had happened at all. And in a place such as Musa Qal’eh, thisalone is a sign of progress.