Taliban attacks target Afghan polls

Voting in parliamentary elections got off to a slow start amid rocket attacks and bombings across the country.

    Voters must choose from more than 2,500 candidates standing for election in the lower house of parliament [AFP]

    At least 10 people have been killed in rocket and bomb attacks by suspected Taliban fighters as voting took place in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections.

    An attack near a polling station in Afghanistan's northern Baghlan province killed one Afghan soldier and six pro-government fighters on Saturday.

    In Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan at least three people were killed and two injured in an explosion at a polling station.

    Taliban fighters also fired rockets in several cities including Kabul, the Afghan capital, and set off bombs alongside a convoy carrying the governor of Kandahar, the Taliban heartland in the south.

    "We are hearing of many incidents throughout Afghanistan. People are getting killed, polling stations are being bombed and rockets are being fired. It is clear there is already a great deal of violence," Al Jazeera's James Bays reported from Kabul.
    Despite the reports of acts violence coming in from across the country, Afghan security officials said that security had been better than expected and that several planned attacks had been thwarted.

    Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the defence ministry spokesman, told a news conference that there had been no serious security incident linked to the election.

    Voting slow

    Voting got off to a slow start in the second parliamentary vote since the US-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.

    However, scores of men and women queued patiently to vote at separate polling stations determined to cast their ballot despite fears of retribution.

    "I want to show that I am not afraid of the Taliban," Mohammad Zaman, who was first in line to vote in a southern suburb of Kabul, said.

    Tens of thousands of Afghan and US-led Nato forces are involved in a massive security operation to guard against attacks after the Taliban urged a boycott and warned it would attack anyone involved in the vote.

    As he cast his ballot, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, called on people to vote to take their country "forward to a better future".

    "We do hope there will be a high voter turnout, that people will come out and vote for the person, man or woman, of their choice without pressure."

    In a Tajik neighbourhood of Kabul about 50 people waited quietly outside one polling station although turnout appeared to be slow in areas dominated by Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group within the Taliban.

    The ballot is a test of the US-led campaign against the Taliban and the commitment by Karzai - whose own re-election last year was mired in massive fraud - to crack down on rampant corruption.

    It comes at a pivotal time for 144,000 US-led Nato troops trying to reverse the Taliban's rise after almost nine years of war and allow US troops to start leaving next year.

    More than 2,500 candidates are contesting 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga. Among them are 406 women contesting 68 seats reserved for them under legislation designed to better their rights.

    The UN and US have conceded the vote will be flawed, but highlighted the fact that it was taking place at all and said they expected it to be better than last year's presidential vote.

    "We knew security was a problem, we have to put it into context and hoping that it will not be a bad day, but security is a concern," Steffan de Mistura, the UN envoy in Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera.

    The violence began before polls opened at 02:30 GMT when Taliban fighters fired a rocket near the Nato headquarters in Kabul. No casualties or damage were reported, a spokeswoman for the alliance said.

    The governor of Kandahar province, the Taliban heartland, said he survived a roadside bomb attack while visiting polling centres in the volatile region.

    "The blast caused no casualties but it shattered my vehicle's windows," Toryalai Wesa said.

    A rocket also slammed into a house killing two people in the eastern province of Nangarhar and a bomb attack at a polling centre in the eastern city of Khost - not far from the Pakistan border - wounded three people, officials said.

    On the eve of the poll, Taliban fighters kidnapped at least one candidate and were blamed for snatching another 18 election workers.

    'Lawlessness and corruption'

    While much campaigning has been personality driven, those who did come to vote early said lawlessness and corruption were their main concerns.

    Hamid Karzai was among the first to cast his vote [AFP]

    Voters have to dip their finger in indelible ink in an effort to minimise fraud but Election Complaints Commission official Ahmad Zia Rafat said some cases of the ink coming off had been registered and other complaints lodged.

    The vote is taking place at 5,816 polling stations, but more than 1,000 will stay shut because of security concerns, particularly in Taliban strongholds.

    Around 115,000 Afghan soldiers and police have been deployed to protect the poll, while Nato has said its entire contingent is on standby.

    White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said there were "serious security concerns" over the vote, which has already been twice delayed over security fears and the need to implement electoral reforms.

    Turnout among the 10.5 million electorate - a paltry 30 per cent last year - will be key.

    Experts believe that violence, expectations of fraud, vested interests and a voting process that favours the status quo will keep it low.

    And with politics rooted in tribalism and power concentrated in the hands of Karzai, the election results will little alter the nature of governance.

    After polling stations close at 4pm (1130 GMT), the laborious process of counting will begin but final results are not due until October 31.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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