Kabul, Sep 28 : Voting is underway in Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday amid heavy security and there are concerns over turnout due to possible attacks. The Taliban has ordered fighters to use all means at their disposal to disrupt the vote.
Some 9.6 million Afghans – 34.5 per cent of them women – are eligible to vote. A total of 15 candidates are in the fray, including incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking a second term in office, and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Saturday’s presidential election is the fourth in Afghanistan since 2001, when the US troops invaded the country to oust the Taliban regime.
Due to Taliban threats, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) will hold election only in 4,942 out of the total 7,385 polling centres.
Of these, 675 voting centres have been designated highly sensitive from a security point of view while as 907 face low-security threats. Some 3,360 have been declared fully secure for voting.
Voting will also not be held in areas under Taliban control.
The Afghan government has decided to deploy 72,000 soldiers across the country to maintain law and order during the voting, according to the Interior Ministry.
An additional 30,000 troops will also be on standby to respond to any imminent Taliban attack.
The capital, Kabul, has been completely taken over by security forces with checkpoints and barricades every few metres, while trucks and vans have been banned after the city witnessed several attacks this year that killed dozens of people.
Last October’s parliamentary elections were rife with accusations of fraud and violence, something that is very likely to be repeated during the current presidential election, given that the Taliban oppose the voting, claiming they are a farce orchestrated by the US.
During the election campaign, which kicked off towards the end of July, insurgents have carried out several attacks, including one on September 17 during a rally by Ghani in which at least 30 people were killed and 51 injured. Another major candidate is former warlord and former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – known as the “Butcher of Kabul” for continuously bombing the capital in 1992 during the Afghan civil war, killing at least 1,000 people and leaving more than 8,000 injured in his wake.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid on Thursday called the election a “fake process of the American invaders and their few servile slaves” and promised to disrupt it “by attacking all security personnel that guard this process and by targeting offices and centres that operate for this staged show”.
The insurgent group warned “all those individuals, especially city dwellers, that intend to participate in this process to stay away from polling stations on election day and not throw themselves into danger”.
The next Afghan government will also have to deal with the possibility of US troops leaving the nation and its consequences.
Washington and the Taliban have held nine rounds of negotiations for more than a year in Qatar. Both sides had reached a draft agreement when US President Donald Trump decided earlier this month to suspend negotiations with the insurgents.