Kabul: Afghan officials and political figures sought to reassure wary Afghans on Thursday that it will be safe to vote in this weekend`s Parliamentary Election despite an upswing in violence in recent months.
Both the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, an insurgent group under the leadership of warlord and former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, have criticised the elections and urged people to stay home.
In the southern province of Kandahar — the birthplace of the Taliban — Governor Tooryalai Wesa insisted that recent military operations by NATO and Afghan forces had weakened the insurgents.
"They`ve got nothing," Wesa told reporters in Kandahar city. "They just have propaganda and threats, so people should not be afraid. They should come out for the coming elections and they should vote their choice for their own candidate."
Saturday`s poll is the first since a fraud-marred Presidential Elections last year that left many of the Afghan government`s international backers questioning whether they had a reliable partner in President Hamid Karzai.
Much of the fraud in the August 2009 election was tied to insecurity. Polling station lists were only released a few days before the vote because of continually changing reports from security forces about what areas they could secure. A push to open as many polling stations as possible enabled corrupt officials to stuff ballot boxes for their preferred candidate at stations voters didn`t know about or couldn`t get to.
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry urged citizens to trust they`ll be protected by Afghan and international security forces and go to the polls.
"The Interior Ministry calls on the people of Afghanistan to come out and vote in force. The security is fine. We have taken care of the security," Zemeri Bashary told reporters in Kabul.
NATO said on Thursday that eight insurgents who "actively" planned to execute attacks during the elections were killed in an airstrike and a follow-up ground operation against a Taliban district commander in northern Kunduz province the previous day.
In addition, NATO and Afghan forces arrested three men who had been planning a rocket and grenade attack on a military training centre in the capital during the balloting, NATO said Thursday. The military coalition said it found the group through a number of intelligence sources, including tips from local residents.
Nevertheless, the campaign season has been characterized by violence and intimidation.
There have been at least 19 election-related deaths, including four candidates, according to the UN and the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, the main Afghan monitoring group. The foundation also recorded at least 220 incidents of election-related violence and intimidation across the country between July 15 and August 25.
The Taliban repeated their threat of violence on election day in a statement sent to media on Thursday.