Two foreign election observer and support missions have pulled staff out of Afghanistan after a Taliban attack on a hotel in Kabul, in a move that could undermine confidence in the outcome of next month’s vote. The presidential election on 5 April could mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power. Many fear a repeat of the widespread fraud that discredited the poll in 2009 when about 20% of votes were thrown out. “It’s really bad news,” said Jandad Spingar, director at the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the largest Afghan monitoring group. “Having international observers in the election is really, really important … [to] give legitimacy to the process.”
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) said it had pulled its observers from the country, while a senior European diplomat said observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had been withdrawn to Turkey. The European Union’s international monitoring mission is the only major one to remain in Afghanistan.
On Thursday the Taliban attacked the heavily fortified Serena hotel in central Kabul, where most foreign observers were staying. An NDI observer, Luis Maria Duarte, was among the nine people killed, and many of his colleagues were in the building at the time.
Kathy Gest, public affairs director at NDI, said: “We have withdrawn our staff that were staying at the Serena, and we are assessing our election monitoring activities.”