Millions of voters braved Taliban attacks and organizational chaos to cast their ballots in Afghanistan’s third parliamentary election since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
The Taliban, however, are gloating over hampering the process by mounting more than 400 attacks on polling stations, staff, and Afghan security forces guarding the election.
“The enemy [sustained] heavy human and material losses, destroying and closing down polling stations, killing and wounding tens of police and soldiers,” Taliban spokesman Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi said in an October 20 statement. “Up to 100 electoral commission workers [are] being detained. Except for a few cities, most people refrained from participating in all the provinces and districts.”
Afghan and international media reports, however, suggest that many of the nearly 50 people killed during the two-day voting were civilians. Children, too, were among the victims.
Preliminary figures suggest some 4 million Afghans out of 8.8 registered voters cast their ballots in 32 of the country’s 34 provinces. Voting in the large southern province of Kandahar is scheduled for next week, while the Afghan election commission decided to cancel polling in the southeastern province of Ghazni due to insecurity.
The enthusiastic turnout suggests Afghans are largely refraining from backing the Taliban’s narrative, which portrays Afghanistan as an occupied country with a government lacking popular legitimacy.
“Holding supposed elections in countries under occupations are only meant at deceiving the public,” the Taliban statement said. “Everything is financed, ordered, and works for the interests of occupying forces, and that is not acceptable to any Afghan with the slightest bit of conscience.”
The United States, the country that insurgents frequently blame for occupying Afghanistan, is now seeking a negotiated solution to war in the country by supporting reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban. From a peak of 140,000 troops in 2014, the number of foreign forces in Afghanistan is currently less than 20,000.
Kabul is eager to underscore the importance of a relatively high voter turnout at a time when most international discussion about Afghanistan invariably turns to a bleak prognosis for the country of an estimated 30 million people. Kabul’s ability to claim success is clouded by the fact that the Afghan state still depends on foreign support for most key functions such as maintaining Afghanistan’s 300,000-strong security forces.
“Great people of Afghanistan, thank you! By casting your votes, you sent a message to the world that you do not want violence; you demonstrated your determination through democracy,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a televised address on October 21. “You proved to the Taliban that this nation will not surrender to anyone.”
For now, Kabul can be upbeat about the process. But if past elections are any precedent, Afghanistan’s strongmen and the various factions vying for power are likely to question the election results if their candidates fail to win.
Once again, Afghanistan’s political elites will be required to demonstrate whether they are ready to sacrifice personal and political interests over national interests.
So far, most of them have prioritized individual power, prestige and factional spoils over their country’s peace and stability.