afghanistan, afghanistan border, afghanistan election, us troops afghanistan
Heidi Vogt/AP
An Afghan border police officer guards a post along the Pakistani border, about 100 kilometers
(63 miles) southeast of Kandahar, Sunday, August 9, 2009.

Afghanistan Readies for Election Amid Violence

August 10, 2009 01:00 PM
by Liz Colville
As Afghanistan approaches its Aug. 20 national elections, attacks and threats may prevent some voters from going to the polls.

Attack on Government Buildings Latest Threat

On Monday, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a police headquarters and governor’s office in the town of Pul-e-Alam, the capital of the Logar Province. Pul-e-Alam is an hour from the country’s capital, Kabul, Carlotta Gall of The New York Times reported.

Gunmen attempted to storm the governor’s office but were overcome by the governor’s security. The attack comes 10 days ahead of national elections. Increased NATO forces in the country are attempting to quell or prevent such events. But the Taliban “have warned people not to vote and have said they will seek to disrupt the elections,” Gall writes.

According to the Associated Press, two Afghan police offers and three Taliban members were killed, one by a U.S. helicopter rocket, the other by suicide bomb and the third “in battle.” The attack was one of the Taliban’s “several multi-pronged attacks on eastern Afghan cities in recent months,” AP adds. “The militants typically attack multiple sites at once with rockets, gunfire and suicide explosions.”

The use of roadside bombs has increased in recent months, according to AP, and a “record number of U.S. and NATO troops were killed in the country in July, many of them from roadside bombs.” Also on Monday, a car bomb exploded while being planted, killing six Taliban militants.

Recent Developments: Taliban threatening voters

Along with spates of violence, the Taliban has openly pledged to disrupt the polls as the election nears, Peter Graff reports for Reuters. Motivated by the elections, President Barack Obama is sending thousands of U.S. troops to the country, which he says is the country’s “most important test of Afghanistan’s political progress,” according to Reuters.

“Diplomats worry that sustained violence on polling day, threats that sharply reduce turnout or allegations of large-scale fraud could make it hard to present any result as legitimate, worsening the instability in the country,” Graff adds. To combat these risks, the U.S. will “work with Afghan officials to create a secure environment for voters.”

But threatening pamphlets, radio announcements and stolen voter registration cards are among the challenges officials are facing. “[F]ar fewer people are attending political rallies than in the past, for fear of attack,” Graf writes, citing a U.N. report written by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), which is summarized on the UNAMA Web site.

Incumbent Karzai Faces 41 Candidates

At the beginning of the summer, it looked as if President Hamid Karzai would be reelected by a wide margin, The Globe and Mail notes. But in recent weeks “the potential for a run-off has been growing, as two of the 41 candidates for president have emerged as legitimate challengers—former foreign affairs minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani,” Omar Elakkad wrote. “Mr. Abdullah is currently second in most polls behind Mr. Karzai.”

The Globe and Mail points out that the leading candidates are popular in certain regions, and violence in some of those regions may force polling station closures and thus affect the election results. The southern provinces, where President Karzai sees the most support, are “rife with growing violence,” whereas “Mr. Abdullah's Tajik support base in the north enjoys much more security.”

It has been overwhelming, the support from the people, despite the fact I entered the race very late,” Abdullah recently told The Associated Press. AP noted that he “is mounting a strong challenge in an unstable political climate where predictions are risky.” Abdullah and his father are of the Pashtun ethnic group, which makes up about 40 percent of the Afghan population, according to AP. But his mother was Tajik, the ethnic group that dominates the north of the country, making up 25 percent of the population, and is a “more moderate” group.

Abdullah is counting on the woman and youth vote, and for the Pashtuns to recognize him as the candidate of change. “The Pashtun areas are the ones which are in the need for change more than any other parts of the country,” he told the AP. “With the continuation of the situation, they don't see that change coming.”

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