Two days before Afghanistan's second presidential election since the NATO-led ouster of the Taliban, tensions are rising amid increased insurgent violence, intimidation and fears of widespread fraud.
Kabul was rocked Tuesday by a suicide bomb blast targeting a convoy of foreign troops, two days before the country goes to the polls for provincial and presidential elections.
At least seven people, including soldiers serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, were killed and another 50 were wounded. Two Afghan UN employees wre also killed and a third was wounded, the UN representative in Afghanistan said.
Earlier in the day, a Taliban rocket struck the grounds of the presidential palace in Kabul and another hit the police headquarters.
The recent spate of violence highlights the growing insecurity and unrest in the country ahead of the second presidential vote since US and NATO forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.
The NATO-led forces announced that they would suspend all offensive operations and focus on protecting the civilian population on election day, as Taliban insurgents renewed their threats to disrupt the poll and called on Afghans to boycott it.
"If anyone is harmed by mujahideen for participating in the process, they will be responsible themselves," the Taliban said in a statement to AFP.
The Guardian’s correspondent in Kabul, Jon Boone, told FRANCE 24 that Taliban intimidation is of particular concern in the south and south-east of the country.
"These are the areas that have suffered the worst in the last five years," he said. "There will be people who will not want to take the risk of going to vote."
French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner condemned the bombing. "Under these difficult circumstances," he said, "I praise the courage and determination that the Afghan people have been showing in their very strong involvement in the entire election campaign."
French soldiers in Afghanistan held a moment of silence on Tuesday to remember 10 of their comrades who died in an insurgent ambush near Kabul a year ago. It was France's worst military loss in 25 years.
Amid the upsurge in violence in Afghanistan there is also growing concern over widespread fraud.
About 17 million people have registered to vote, and despite fears that low turnout could undermine the election's credibility, many are eager to take part.
But Human Rights Watch (HRW) has raised concern that the polls could also be compromised by widespread fraud.
"Violence, plans to use irregular security forces at polling stations, unequal access of candidates to state media, and conditions affecting women are of particular concern," said Brad Adams, Asia director at the human rights advocacy group.
"Voter-registration problems, multiple voting, fraudulent proxy voting, ballot stuffing, false tabulation of results and other improprieties by electoral commission field staff could undermine the legitimacy of the results," the organisation warned in a report released on Tuesday.
Jon Boone says assurances of safeguards by the Afghan electoral commission have failed to convince many across the country.
Some voting stations, he says, are so remote it is impossible to know whether they will be supervised.
Chance of a run-off
Incumbent Hamid Karzai has been tipped to hold on to power but an energetic campaign by former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has boosted the chance of a run-off.
Karzai's popularity has dwindled in the nearly eight years since he took over the enormous task of governing the tribal and illiterate Islamic country shattered after nearly three decades of war.
Progress has been made since the collapse of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, but many people are frustrated. Despite billions of dollars of Western aid, most Afghans lack electricity, roads are bad, jobs are scarce and corruption is rife.
"The problem of voter disillusionment is likely to have as big an impact as Taliban intimidation,” says Jon Boon. This is particularly the case in the restive southern and south-eastern provinces, he adds: "The government has not been seen to achieve much in these areas and many will not see the point of voting."
Date created : 2009-08-18