The two top vote-getters in the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election have begun campaigning for the June 14 runoff, which Taliban insurgents have again pledged to disrupt.
Afghanistan is holding a presidential runoff election because none of the eight candidates in the first round of voting, held on April 5, were able to secure more than 50 percent of the vote.
Afghans will now choose between frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to replace President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from a third term in office.
Both presidential hopefuls kicked off their campaign Thursday in Kabul, where Afghan Interior Minister Umar Daudzai told a conference of top police officers that national security forces are “fully prepared” to keep the Taliban from disrupting the crucial polls.
Daudzai also said there were more than a dozen incidents of fraud involving Afghan police officers in the first round, and that the officers were penalized.
The national police force has promised to discourage such incidents in the upcoming vote, he said. “They renewed that pledge that we will remain neutral and we will make sure that we prevent any attempt of fraud to any extent we can do it.”
A Taliban spokesman says the militant group is determined to disrupt the runoff and says insurgents have taken some 27 Afghan policemen hostage after overrunning Yamgan district in northern Badakhshan province earlier this week.
Interior Minister Daudzai confirmed the insurgent activity without giving details.
“I know they captured the district and my advice to them is that they should not," he said. "Nobody would like to capture his own country. If they are Afghans they should not capture Afghanistan and if they are Afghans they should not be proud that [they] captured police. Police is a force that is a servant of all of us, not our enemy. But if they are not Afghans, they will be dealt with accordingly.”
The political transition is taking place in Afghanistan at a time when the U.S.-led military coalition is withdrawing from the country.
The United States wants to maintain a smaller military presence after 2014 to advise and train Afghan forces. But President Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security pact with Washington to allow the American forces to continue their mission.
Both Abdullah and Ghani have promised to sign the agreement if they win the election. The new president will have to deal with the Taliban insurgency, rampant corruption and declining international financial assistance to protect gains Afghanistan has made over the past decade.