Amid unrest and insurgency, about 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 parliamentary seats allocated among the 34 provinces.

Afghanistan has held crucial parliamentary elections despite a string of rocket attacks and threats of reprisals by the Taliban.

Voters turned out in modest numbers to elect 249 representatives to the Wolesi Jirga, the Afghan lower house of parliament. More than 2,500 candidates including over 400 women have stood for elections, the second after 2001, when the Taliban were evicted from power in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

At daybreak, it became evident that those hostile to the elections were making serious attempts to disrupt polling. At around 4 a.m. on Saturday, a rocket exploded in Central Kabul, close to the American embassy and the headquarters of NATO-led forces.

Reuters reported that an explosion close to a polling station in eastern Khost province, near the Pakistan border, wounded two Afghan election observers. As polling came to a close, reports emerged that 11 people had been killed, including six policemen in the north.

Ahead of the voting, the Taliban urged Afghans to boycott the polls, and counselled them to stick to “jihad,” (holy war).

“The Americans want to conduct the fatuous election process with an aim of showing to the Afghans and to the public of the world that they are intending to put an elected government and parliament in Afghanistan,” a Taliban statement said.

It added: “We call on our Muslim nation to boycott this process and thus foil all foreign processes and drive away the invaders from your country by sticking to jihad and Islamic resistance.”

Last year, the Talban failed to disrupt the Afghan Presidential elections entirely, despite staging dozens of attacks. However, the turnout was then low in the Taliban strongholds in the country's south and east.

Anticipating violence, more than 115,000 Afghan army and police personnel, supported by around 140,000-strong NATO-led troops were deployed to provide security to around 11.4 million people who were eligible to vote.

Preliminary results are expected to be announced on September 22.

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