Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency has warned Afghans against participating in the April 5 presidential election and ordered its fighters to use “all force” possible to disrupt the election. The Islamist group's statement marks its first formal threat of violence to prevent the election process.
The upcoming presidential election is considered key to Afghanistan's stability after the NATO-led coalition ends its combat mission in December. The poll would mark the country's first democratic transfer of power.
But security remains the biggest challenge facing the democratic process, and the Taliban threat is likely to fuel those fears.
A Taliban statement Monday condemned the election as an American conspiracy, urging Afghans to “completely reject” it and not put themselves in danger by going to the polls. It said Taliban fighters have been ordered to disrupt the “sham elections by full force and attack election workers, activists, volunteers and those providing security”.
The head of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, Jandad Spinghar, said such threats undermine the election process and scare away voters.
“It is now up to the Afghan government, especially security institutions, to respond to such [a] statement not just by a statement, but by some certain efforts and measures, which make sure that the Taliban cannot disturb the election. Otherwise, of course it will [have an] effect on people, especially psychologically on peoples’ thoughts about their participation [in the election],” he said.
Dozens of people were killed during the fraud-riddled 2009 election that returned incumbent President Hamid Karzai to power. Election laws bar him from running for a third consecutive term.
Militant attacks in the past month have killed two campaign workers, and presidential front-runner candidate Abdullah Abdullah has escaped an assassination attempt. The Taliban claim responsibility for the violence.
Meanwhile, leading candidates and some independent observers allege the Karzai administration is interfering in the election process.
Spinghar said observers of his organization have come across official irregularities. “Governmental authorities, opposite with that regulation we have for the campaign, they participated in some campaign events or they expressed their support through media for some candidates, which are not according to the regulation. And in many places the governmental tools or vehicles are used for the benefit of some specific candidates,” he said.
President Hamid Karzai has not endorsed any candidate and has vowed to strictly remain neutral in the election.
Officials have also rejected allegations that recent meetings in the presidential palace were meant to gather support for Karzai’s favored successor.
Last week’s announcement by the incumbent president’s older brother, Qayum Karzai, that he was pulling out of the race in favor of former foreign minister Zalmay Rassoul, has left little doubt among Afghan watchers about President Karzai’s favorite candidate.
Karzai is believed to be seeking an influential background advisory role in the future Afghan government and analysts say supporting Rassoul could help.
Some critics also suggest the controversy stemming from President Karzai’s refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement with the United States has effectively diverted international attention from the crucial election, allowing the Afghan leader to manipulate the process in his favor.