As the vote-counting commenced, it brought about the end of election day in Afghanistan. The precarious security situation and the struggling economy seemed to be on top of the minds of voters. The Taliban made every effort over the last few weeks to ensure this election would not be a peaceful affair.
More than 72,000 security personnel were deployed to 49,402 polling booths nationwide. The threat of attacks remained on Afghan voters’ minds, but some said they were determined to go out and vote.
Despite efforts to ensure the election ran smoothly, including the use of equipment such as biometric fingerprint readers and better training for poll workers, 445 polling stations remained closed due to security concerns. Chaotic disruptions at polling stations and scare tactics from Taliban forces led to fear and anxiety across the country’s electorate.
“I did not vote because I did not want to get killed,” said a 25-year-old shopkeeper in District 11 of Kabul City.
The increased security presence did not prevent all manifestations of violence. TOLOnews reported over 260 incidents and that 90 of them were a direct attack on polls. In a single attack, at least 17 people were wounded when a bomb exploded outside a polling station in the southern city of Kandahar hours after the polls opened.
As Abdul Qadir Sediqi, a Reuters correspondent in Afghanistan correctly states, the election was “a major test of the Western-backed government’s ability to protect democracy.” As the votes continue to be counted, Afghans cautiously await news to find out who their next president will be, and if this leader can improve the security situation.
Local officials in Helmand said that voter turnout was weak. The presence of the Taliban in the province prevented citizens from casting their votes in at least five districts. There were also multiple reports from provincial officials in the north of Afghanistan that stated insurgents fired mortars on the city of Kunduz in attempts to interfere with the casting of ballots.
Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a council member for Kunduz province, stated on election day that the Taliban “are attacking Afghan security forces in two locations outside the city, in running gun battles.” He confirms civilian casualties, but couldn’t immediately provide a number.
In Baghlan, a province frequently attacked by the Taliban, 12 polls remained closed due to their threats. Fewer people voted at open polling stations as the Taliban fired several mortars to disrupt the electoral process. Further, security was especially tight in northern Afghanistan, particularly in Kunduz due to a recent attack by the Taliban. However, telecommunication networks were down in Badakhshan, Takhar and some areas of Kunduz province until September 30.
Furthermore, only 225 people voted in Zabul province because of the strong insurgency presence and the lack of civic engagement. The telecommunication networks were disrupted or completely down intermittently. Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (AIEC) stated it lost contact with 901 of the country’s 5,373 polling centers.
On top of this, the Taliban threatened to close highways and disrupt polls. Nevertheless, despite a few claims of Taliban activity on the Kandahar-Kabul highway in Zabul province, they were unable to disrupt the election drastically.
The Afghanistan National Security Forces scored a marked success as they prevented any major terrorist attack in a country where various terrorist groups operate and the Taliban controls over 60% of the territory. Their actions proved their capabilities to defend Afghan citizens.
Security concerns, election fraud, and a lower voter turnout can easily be depicted as backsliding in Afghanistan, however, the presidential elections of 2019 were a positive step compared to previous events. Elections in 2009 and 2014 may have produced higher turnout, but they were hampered by mass corruption, fraudulent votes, and deadlier attacks.
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