Afghans headed to the polls Saturday to cast their votes for president in spite of dual fears over election fraud and misconduct as well as the threat of militant violence at voting stations.
A string of deadly attacks by the Taliban in the weeks leading up to the election cast a pall over Saturday’s voting as Afghans decided whether to give incumbent President Ashraf Ghani a second term or hand the reins over to his partner in the five-year-old unity government, Abdullah Abdullah, who is already accusing Ghani of abuse of power.
The low-turnout election proceedings were tarnished by about a dozen small-scale attacks that killed one, according to Reuters. Compounding on the fears around the attacks, the voting process itself was also marred by delays at the polls, incomplete voters’ lists and technical issues in devices aimed specifically at preventing fraud.
“It took the first voter 31 minutes to vote. For subsequent voters it was taking around five minutes and then it started to streamline to 3 minutes and 30 seconds,” Nishank Motwani, an observer stationed in Kabul, told Reuters. “Election commission staff looked panicked and voters were getting angry that the queue was not moving.”
Preliminary results of the election won’t be released until Oct. 17, while a final vote count will not be revealed until the beginning of November.
The voting, which was protected by tens of thousands of troops, comes amid heightened uncertainty in Afghanistan.
The future of the country largely hinges on on-again-off-again peace talks between Washington and the Taliban, which now controls more of Afghanistan than at any time since it was toppled in 2001.
President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE announced this month that talks with the armed group are “dead” in the wake of an attack in Afghanistan that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.
“They’re dead,” Trump told reporters. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.”
The announcement, however, came after he said that he had previously been scheduled to hold a summit with the Taliban at Camp David, suggesting peace talks prior to the attack had been further along than previously thought.
Washington and the Taliban had been trying to hammer out a deal that would see a troop reduction from the U.S. in exchange for assurances that the Taliban would not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.