KABUL, Afghanistan – Despite repeated threats from the Taliban, Afghans across the country began voting on Saturday in the 17-year parliamentary elections in a raging war.
The elections, which have been postponed for three years, are a test of the ability of the security forces to protect the process from attacks by the Taliban who want to stop the vote and a small affiliate of the Islamic State who has been in the past Months responsible for deadly suicide bombers. About 70,000 members of the security forces, already under attack by daily Taliban attacks, were deployed to ensure electoral security.
The election is also in the midst of lengthy political clashes in which opposition groups have accused the government of attempting to trial the process by inflated voter rolls , The disputes made preparations considerably more difficult, with last-minute measures such as fingerprints at polling stations being introduced to alleviate fears of voting and "ghost" voting.
Ignorance of fingerprint devices and late arrival of electoral materials caused significant delays in starting voting in many polling stations, residents and officials said Saturday. Frustration was evident in many voters facing security threats to stand in long queues.
"I came to vote in the middle where I registered my name before, but after an hour they could not find my name on the voting list," said Zamir Ahmad Khaksar, 35, resident of Jalalabad , a city that has been hit by repeated bomb attacks in recent months.
But Mr. Khaksar added, "I would vote. Even if bullets rained in the city just to have a proper parliament."
Following the vote in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani thanked the security forces "We had doubts about elections, but today we hold elections," Ghani said after the election. "As an Afghan citizen, I call on all Afghan women and men to vote today, it is their responsibility and their right, and I hope these elections will be successful."
Around noon, violence was reported in several parts of the country. Officials and residents said that mortar attacks had taken place in the provinces of Uruzgan and Helmand in the south. In the northern province of Kunduz, officials reported fighting in several districts and rockets in the town of Kunduz. The Taliban had blocked the highway from Kunduz to Takhar Province.
Gul Bai, a local police commander in Imam Saheb district, Kunduz province, said the Taliban had already begun attacks at 2 am and the fighting continued. "In Abfrosha district, they hit the polling station and the boxes with missiles," he said. "We martyred four security forces there."
In Chardara district in the province, fighting also started early, and security forces were only able to open one of the four polling stations in the district.
"We were only able to open a poll page, but people are not coming," said Abdul Karim, a local police commander. "Even now the fighting continues."
At a polling station in Kabul, where after two hours delay elections began, people queued and waited for their arrival, despite reports of small explosions in several parts of the capital
"I'm worried about security but I'm here to vote because I'm tired of the current situation, "said Haji Mohammed, 50.
Hossai, an 18-year-old first-voter, said she was excited to exercise her right.
"I'm the only one in the family who chooses," said Hossai, who uses only one name. "I think my voice can change the situation, that's why I'm here."
"I'm worried about the security situation," she added, "I just heard about the explosion somewhere in Kabul, but it will do not stop voting. "