KABUL: A bigger-than-expected turnout in Afghanistan’s presidential election and the Taliban’s failure to derail the vote has raised questions about the capacity of the insurgents to tip the country back into chaos as foreign troops head home.
The Taliban claimed that they staged more than 1,000 attacks and killed dozens during Saturday’s election, which they have branded a US-backed deception of the Afghan people, though security officials said it was a gross exaggeration.
There were dozens of minor roadside bombs, and attacks on polling stations, police and voters during the day. But the overall level of violence was much lower than the Taliban had threatened to unleash on the country.
And, despite the dangers they faced at polling stations, nearly 60 percent of the 12 million people eligible to vote turned out, a measure of the determination for a say in their country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power, as President Hamid Karzai prepares to stand down after 12 years in power.
“This is how people vote to say death to the Taliban,” said one Afghan on Twitter, posting a photograph that showed his friends holding up one finger — stained with ink to show they had voted — in a gesture of defiance.
There was a palpable sense in Kabul yesterday that perhaps greater stability is within reach after 13 years of strife since the fall of the Taliban’s hardline Islamist regime in late 2001. The insurgency has claimed the lives of at least 16,000 Afghans civilians and thousands more soldiers.
“It was my dream come true,” said Shukria Barakzai, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament. “That was a fantastic slap on the face of the enemy of Afghanistan, a big punch in the face of those who believe Afghanistan is not ready for democracy.”
And yet this could be the beginning of a long and potentially dangerous period for Afghanistan as it will take weeks if not months to count votes and declare the winner in a country with only basic infrastructure and a rugged terrain.
Although the Taliban failed to pull off major attacks on election day itself, some fear insurgents are preparing to disrupt the ballot-counting process which kicked off on Saturday night.
In the first such attack since polling closed, a roadside bomb killed two Afghan election workers and one policeman and destroyed dozens of ballot papers yesterday, police and an election official said.
Observers believe it is too early to conclude from the Taliban’s failure to trip up the vote that it is now on a backfoot.
More than 350,000 security forces were deployed for the vote, and rings of checkpoints and roadblocks around the capital, Kabul, may well have thwarted Taliban plans to hit voters and polling stations.
It is possible the Taliban deliberately lay low to give the impression of improving security in order to hasten the exit of US troops and gain more ground later. After all, they managed to launch a wave of spectacular attacks in the run-up to the vote, targetting foreigners, security forces and civilians.