An Afghan man sells pomegranates on a street in Kabul, the capital, on Oct. 19, 2016. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani) (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

Few countries have been as affected by the twists and turns of recent U.S. foreign policy as Afghanistan. Once supported by Washington as a Cold War proxy, it was abandoned to civil conflict, then liberated from Islamist repression and, under the Obama administration, flooded with troops and remolded as a modern Muslim democracy.

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise, then, that Afghans — like Americans — appear to be divided into two camps on the U.S. presidential election. Some are hoping for a continuation of Washington’s political and military involvement, but others are eager for a radical change.

In some ways, the American election seems remote in this war-weary capital that is rapidly succumbing to an early winter chill. The faces on political posters and billboards are those of Afghan warlord-politicians. The evening news is dominated by the latest Taliban suicide attack or government squabble. No national polls have been done to parse Afghans’ views on the U.S. race. 

But in office corners, tea shops and commuter buses, people are puzzling over the faraway brawl between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, wondering how serious Trump is about banning Muslims from the United States and whether Clinton will keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

While some Afghans said in interviews that they are fearful that a Trump presidency would be hostile to Muslims of all kinds, others dismissed his harsh comments as campaign rhetoric. Trump initially called for preventing Muslims from entering the United States but later said he wanted to limit immigration from countries experiencing terrorism.

Some Afghans said they believed he would not be able to sharply limit the arrival of Muslims, given the broad diversity and freedoms of American society. 

“Maybe Trump is a racist, but he also seems like someone who can solve problems,” said Noor Akhtar, 23, an engineering student at Kabul University. “Islam is a religion with 1,400 years of history, and the terrorist phenomenon is only 20 years old,” he added, noting that many Muslim immigrants live in the United States. “There is no reason to blame one for the other.”

Numerous people said that they thought Clinton would probably win and that she would presumably continue the foreign policies of the Obama administration. Some described those policies as open-minded and pro-democratic, but others said they had focused too much on defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda, bringing years of war to Afghanistan that caused many civilian casualties and other problems. 

“We all thought the Americans would bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, but that hasn’t happened. It gets worse every year,” said Rustam Mobasher, 25, a medical student. “Trump seems tougher than Hillary, and he can change those policies.” He dismissed Trump’s anti-Muslim comments as a ploy to win voters, predicting that “after the election, that will change.”

Several Afghan politicians and analysts who have followed the campaign closely said they expected that Clinton would be elected and act as a reasonable world leader. But some said they were surprised and worried by the public anger and prejudice that has emerged. 

“A lot of people here think Hillary will win, but others see Trump as the real face of America, a different America,” said Waheed Mojda, a political analyst. “If he comes to power, it would be far worse, not just for Afghanistan but for the whole Muslim world.” 

Several younger Afghans, who were applying for visas to study in the United States, said they were hurrying to make those plans in case the U.S. government suddenly changes its policies. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have relatives who have immigrated to the United States, and some have expressed concern that they might be prevented from visiting them. 

But several students said they thought Trump’s business background might strengthen the U.S. economy and create job opportunities for ambitious young foreigners like themselves.  

Najib Mahmoud, a professor of law and political science, said he was not worried about a Trump victory “because the American people will not allow him to implement his election slogans.”

“They do not want to be criticized and mocked by the world while Russia and China gain strength globally,” he said.

Fauzia Koofi, a member of parliament and a rights activist, said that no matter which candidate wins the election, “they will be representing a superpower that has a responsibility to represent and support democracy in the world.”  

She noted that although neither candidate had focused much on Afghanistan, “they will have to keep helping us, because we are still suffering from the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and now we have Daesh, too,” the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

Although Trump’s toughness clearly appeals to some Afghans, several observers said that Clinton has strong support here because she is a woman and Afghan women identify with her efforts to get ahead in a man’s world.

“We Afghans really appreciate that for the first time in history, a woman could become the American president,” said Moeen Manastial, a political party activist and consultant. “She represents both continuity in American policy but also a fight for women’s rights. I will be very happy if she wins.” 

Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.