Taliban tell Afghan voters to stay home ahead of presidential election

The Taliban have tried to undermine every election since US-backed forces took power in 2001. The Interior Ministry claimed that 95 percent of polling stations will open on election day. 

Massoud Hossaini/AP
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's wife Rula Ghani walks on the stage as she prepares to speak during a campaign rally for women a day after International Women's Day in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 9, 2014. Ten Afghan presidential candidates are campaigning in the presidential election scheduled for April.

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In their first explicit threat to Afghanistan's presidential elections, the Taliban called upon their forces to attack the infrastructure of next month's poll, calling it a "plot" of foreign "invaders."

Agence France-Presse reports that the Taliban have targeted every Afghan election since 2004. So far, this year's campaign ahead of the April 5 vote to decide on a successor to President Hamid Karzai has been "relatively peaceful." But the militant group, in a statement released today, promises more violence to come.

"We have given orders to all our mujahideen to use all force at their disposal to disrupt these upcoming sham elections -- to target all workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices," the Taliban said in an emailed statement.

"It is the religious obligation of every Afghan to fulfil their duty by foiling the latest plot of the invaders that is guised in the garb of elections." ...

The statement added that "the actual election has already taken place in the offices of the CIA and Pentagon and their favourite candidate has already won", without mentioning any candidate by name.

The Associated Press notes that the Taliban have already carried out several attacks related to the elections in the past month, including the murder of a campaign worker for presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah; a failed suicide attack on vice presidential candidate Ismail Khan; and the murder of a member of the Independent Election Commission.

The security of the impending election has long been a source of concern. In January, the chief of the IEC admitted to The Christian Science Monitor that the safety of the elections was obviously under threat, despite upbeat reports from the Interior Ministry that said some 95 percent of polling stations would be up and running for the vote.

“The IEC relies on the Afghan governmental security organizations to tell us what areas are secure, but it’s obvious that in some areas we will be trying to conduct elections in the middle of fighting [between antigovernment groups and the Afghan and international security forces],” says IEC Chief Electoral Officer Ziaulhaq Amarkhil.

Nonetheless, Mr. Amarkhil and others say that the Afghan government has no choice but to move forward with the election plans.

“This is our time. The security won’t get better in two months or six months. There is no other way for political transition because Afghans are used to elections now and they won’t accept anyone choosing their leader for them,” says Amerkhil.

And the Monitor's Dan Murphy predicts that the election will not be fair regardless, noting that the 2009 presidential election and the last parliamentary election were both "marked by rampant fraud. The country's independent election monitoring commission hasn't been allowed to become very independent, or to do much effective monitoring. Though the US has preferred in the past to refer to Afghan elections as 'messy' rather than acknowledge they are fraud fests, the reality can't be glossed over."

The Washington Post, reporting from the region of Nabahar, 200 miles south of the Afghan capital of Kabul, suggests that enthusiasm for the election is low, with Afghans afraid of voting for fear of Taliban reprisals. When Afghan government soldiers recently visited the region, the Post writes, "many locals dismissed the soldiers as no more than a temporary presence, a reaction that frustrated some commanders."

“The Taliban will return in the spring, and they will beat us if we vote,” said Abdul Rauf, a farmer in one village.

“You can’t bring security here,” said Atiqullah, another villager, who like many Afghans goes by only one name.

And when told who they could vote for in the elections – a ballot including several veteran Afghan politicians, some of whom are widely regarded as warlords with blood on their hands – the villagers showed "little enthusiasm — or even recognition."

“These people don’t know what elections are or what the president is,” Afghan army Capt. Hussain Jan said after speaking to one group of men.

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