Afghans brave Taliban threats to cast their ballots

2010-09-18 11:03

Kandahar, Afghanistan – “I am scared. I know there are Taliban threats but I felt I had to come and vote,” Fawzya said as she waited to cast her ballot in Kandahar, the heartland of the Afghan insurgency.

The housewife came with three daughters and two daughters-in-law, to chose who she wanted to represent her in Afghanistan’s new parliament, braving threats by Islamist rebels to wage attacks in one of the most volatile cities.

Dressed in burqas, they had to walk to a polling station reserved for women in the deeply traditional city as all roads were closed to traffic to guard against possible attack. Their husbands went to a separate voting centre.

“It is important that we elect our representatives to parliament to have our voice there speaking up for us and representing us,” Fawzya said.

In Kandahar, turnout appeared low all morning after polls opened, with few people at polling centres in the city.

Children appeared to have been posted at street corners to monitor the level of security on the streets.

“We have heard the Taliban threats, I am concerned and worried but at the same time I had to come and vote, its vital,” said Haji Dur Mohammad.

Outside the city, the Kandahar provincial governor said he survived a roadside bomb attack while visiting polling centres in the volatile region.

“The blast caused no casualties but it shattered my vehicle’s windows,” Toryalai Wesa said, adding: “I’m all right, I’m not hurt.”

A massive security operation is in place for the vote, in which more than 2 500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the second parliamentary election since the Taliban was toppled in the 2001 US-led invasion.

In Kabul, about 300 men and 40 women had joined queues at a polling station in the south of the city in the first few hours after the polls opened.

“I want to show that I am not afraid of the Taliban,” declared Mohammad Zaman (50), who was first in line to vote in the suburb of Kart-e-Naw. “The Taliban threat won’t stop us participating in the election.”

Police carried out body searches at checkpoints across Kabul as voting got off to a largely slow start following a rocket attack on Nato headquarters in the capital and some other areas of the war-wracked country.

In a Tajik neighbourhood of Kabul, about 50 people waited quietly outside one polling station although turnout appeared to be slow in areas dominated by Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group who dominate the insurgency.

At a mosque turned into a polling centre in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood, where long queues of voters, mostly men, snaked through leafy gardens.

Afghan authorities have said that 63 000 soldiers and 52 000 police officers had been deployed to protect the election after the Taliban threatened to attack polling centres, election workers and security forces.

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