Asia-Pacific

Amid Taliban threats and violence, Afghanistan goes to the polls

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Afghanistan elections are due to take place amid the threat of Taliban violence and allegations of corruption.

Afghans are set to vote in parliamentary elections overshadowed by chaotic organisation, allegations of corruption and the threat of violence after decades of war.

The United Nations, which has been supporting the process, has urged Afghans to "use this opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote" on Saturday and called for the election to take place in a safe and secure environment.

But officials worry that violence will keep voters away from polling stations, particularly following the assassination of the police chief of Kandahar on Thursday.

Taliban militants have issued a series of statements telling people not to take part in what they consider a foreign-imposed process and warning election centres may be attacked.

Afghan security officials check people and vehicles  as security has been intensified ahead of parliamentary elections in Helmand.
Afghan security officials check people and vehicles as security has been intensified ahead of parliamentary elections in Helmand.
AP

Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed across the country but already nine candidates have been assassinated and hundreds of people killed and wounded in election-related attacks.

Election authorities originally planned 7,355 polling centres but only 5,100 will be able to open due to security concerns, according to the Independent Election Commission, overseeing the vote.

Voting has been postponed for at least a week in Kandahar province following the killing of police commander General Abdul Razeq.

General Abdul Raziq, Kandahar police chief, was killed in a Taliban attack.
General Abdul Raziq, Kandahar police chief, was killed in a Taliban attack.
AAP

A gunman wearing an Afghan security forces uniform opened fire on General Razeq, who was with a group including General Scott Miller - the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan in the southern city of Kandahar.

Within seconds Raziq, an anti-Taliban strongman and key US ally who was credited with keeping a lid on the insurgency in the south, was dead along with Kandahar's provincial intelligence chief and an Afghan journalist. 

Miller escaped unhurt in the bold attack the militants said had targeted the US general and Raziq, whom they had previously accused of killing thousands of Taliban detainees and had attempted to assassinate dozens of times.

It has also been delayed in Ghazni province, by arguments about the representation of different ethnic groups.

The interior ministry said Friday three suspects have been detained over the shooting, which also wounded 13.

That the Taliban could mount a deadly insider assault on top US and Afghan security chiefs in such a secure location has rattled a country long used to high-profile targeted killings and violence.

It signalled the Taliban could "strike whenever and wherever it wants" and would embolden the insurgents, said Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center.

Afghan officials attend the burial of Police Commander General Abdul Razzaq Dawood, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Afghan officials attend the burial of Police Commander General Abdul Razzaq Dawood, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
AP

"This attack is a huge blow to stability," he added.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that Raziq's death would not fundamentally change the security situation in the province.

"It's a tragic loss of a patriot for Afghanistan. But I don't see it having a long term effect on our area," Mattis told reporters on the sidelines of a security summit in Singapore.

Miller made a public appearance in Kabul on Friday, visiting an Afghan security checkpoint where he expressed condolences over the "tragic event". 

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
AP

"My assessment is that I was not the target. It was a very close confined space. But I don't assess that I was a target," Miller told Afghan broadcaster Tolo News.

Widespread allegations of voter fraud present a challenge to the legitimacy of the process, seen by Afghanistan's international partners as a vital step ahead of the more important presidential election next year.

Afghan politics is still poisoned by the aftermath of a disputed presidential vote in 2014 that forced the two main rival groupings to form an unstable partnership. Both sides were accused of massive electoral cheating.

Some 8.8 million voters have been registered but an unknown number, by some estimates as many as 50 per cent, are believed to be fraudulently or incorrectly registered.

About 2,450 candidates are competing for 250 seats in the lower house. Under the constitution, parliament reviews and ratifies laws but has little real power.

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