Afghans braved the threat of Taliban violence on saturday to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power as US-led forces wind down their 13-year war.
Long queues formed outside polling stations in cities across the country, despite cold, wet weather, as voters cast their ballots at around 6,000 centres under tight security. While voting in urban areas appeared brisk, it was not clear what turnout would be like in rural districts.
The Taliban have rejected the election as a foreign plot and urged their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces, but only one incident was reported in the first few hours of voting. A blast killed one person and wounded two others at a school being used as a polling station in Logar province, south of Kabul, district chief Abdul Hameed Hamid Mohammad Agha said.
In Kabul, hit by a series of deadly attacks during the election campaign, hundreds of people lined up in the open air to vote despite the insurgents’ promise of violence. “I’m not afraid of Taliban threats, we will die one day anyway. I want my vote to be a slap in the face of the Taliban,” housewife Laila Neyazi, 48,said.
Poll security was a major concern following the attacks in Kabul, most recently a suicide bombing on Wednesday that killed six police officers. Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said all 400,000 of Afghanistan’s police, army and intelligence services were being deployed to ensure security around the country.
Afghans have taken over responsibility for security from US-led forces and this year the last of the NATO coalition’s 51,000 combat troops will pull out, leaving local forces to battle the resilient Taliban insurgency without their help. In the western city of Herat, a queue of several hundred people waited to vote at one polling station, while in Jalalabad in the east, voters stood patiently outside a mosque.
Voters also lined up in Kandahar city, the southern heartland of the Taliban, with some women among the crowd in contrast to the 2009 election when turnout was very low due to poor security. The country’s third presidential election brings an end to 13 years of rule by Karzai, who has held power since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.