After a delay of nearly three years, many tribulations and disagreements, Afghanistan has finally announced the date for the parliamentary election — October 20. But as preparations for the vote are under way, militants have stepped up attacks on voter registration centres across the country, according to a recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) has set up over 7,000 centres to register about 10 million voters. However, 26% of these centres are not operational, owing to the security situation in those areas. Besides the attacks on these centres, UNAMA has documented 23 other incidents that left 86 people dead and 185 injured. At least 26 civilians have been abducted since the election was announced in April. The deadliest among these attacks was an explosion on April 22 close to a school serving as a registration centre in Kabul, which killed over 60 people and injured 138.
“I am not sure if I want to participate in the election any more,” Gulam Abbasi, 50, told this writer outside the Emergency War and Trauma Hospital in Kabul, following the attack. Six of his family members, all children, were injured in the explosion. He said he was uncertain if the election would make any difference. “Everyone knows that there are the hands of foreigners [in the election]... We don’t know when we could be hit next. We are always scared.”
The UNAMA report observed that nearly 75% of all the attacks since April have taken place at schools or mosques, which are commonly used as venues for voter registration. “Two incidents at schools concerned the abduction of six civilians; one involved setting fire inside a school; one involved an IED detonated in a school; and one IED detonated at a mosque,” the report stated.
Insurgent groups, especially the Taliban, have issued threats to locals in regions controlled by them to discourage them from participating in the vote. “There is no legitimacy of conducting elections in the presence of thousands of foreign troops in the country,” they said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Afghans in Baghlan province, which has seen increased fighting between government forces and the Taliban in recent months, have been issued warnings against registering to vote. “Burka and Nahrin districts [in Baghlan] are facing threats from Taliban insurgents and the shadow governor of Taliban in the region has warned the locals in Nahrin not to participate in the election,” said Safdar Muhseni, chief of the Provincial Council of Baghlan.
Yet, defying the threats and increasing attacks, over 2 million Afghans have already registered to vote. Some locals in districts under Taliban control are temporarily migrating to safer regions. “Those who are registering to vote have my utmost respect; they are exercising their constitutional right and putting hope for Afghanistan’s future above concerns about their personal safety,” said UNAMA chief Tadamichi Yamamoto.
The office of Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of Afghanistan, said Afghans would defy the Taliban’s threats. “We can’t confirm the figures of UNAMA, but there have been deliberate attacks on civilians who were lined up for registration. It raises concerns and could lead to fears in some cases. But Afghans have stood against it firmly [in the past] and still continue to go to register throughout the country,” said Javid Faisal, deputy spokesperson to Mr. Abdullah.
Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul