Days ahead of the formal start of campaigning for this year’s presidential election in Afghanistan, candidates and their supporters are concerned about the growing security challenges in the country.
They point to frequent terrorist attacks in Afghan cities and the Taliban’s control over large swathes of the countryside as major impediments to campaigning in the vast country ahead of the September 28 election.
“I don’t think the candidates can reach people everywhere,” said Shahab Hakimi, one of the 18 candidates. “Some voters are likely to stay away in order to protect themselves [from possible reprisals].”
Hakimi said the government has failed to honor its promises to improve security for the election process.
Fazal Ghani Haqmal, a spokesman for Islamist candidate Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also sees little chance of reaching the millions of potential voters.
“It is unlikely that candidates can reach all the provinces and districts for campaigning,” he said. “The Taliban claim to be controlling half of the country, which makes it impossible to engage in door-to-door canvassing.”
Most campaigns are relying on media coverage and savvy use of social media to reach more than 9 million predominantly young registered voters among the country’s estimated 35 million people. While currently the Taliban do not fully control any of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, they control or contest nearly half of some 400 districts nationwide.
The insurgents impose harsh rule in the rural regions they control. The Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) militants frequently claim credit for terrorist attacks in Afghan cities, which mostly kill civilians. In June, a Taliban attack killed eight election workers in the southern province of Kandahar, according to officials. Like the past three presidential polls, attacks on the electoral process are likely to mount during campaigning and voting.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) says it is doing all it can to protect the electoral process. Zabih Sadat, a spokesman for the commission, acknowledges that insecurity poses a primary threat. But he says the commission has written to the Afghan government’s security organizations requesting protection.
Nusrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, says they have planned to protect the electioneering.
“We will guard the venues they visit and will deploy additional police,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We have also deployed officers to protect the candidates.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah are among the 18 candidates competing in the September 28 polls.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Ikramullah Ikram’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.