On April 5th, the scheduled date of Afghanistan’s upcoming Presidential election, there will be around a dozen polling centers in Chak, a narrow valley of mud homes and alfalfa farms that lies some forty miles from Kabul. A few of the centers, which are essentially rooms with a section curtained off for voting, will be in schools; others will be in mosques. At least two will be in tents pitched on mountain slopes, near the grazing ranges of nomadic herders. Freshly painted campaign billboards loom over the road into the valley. Tens of thousands of ballots are ready for delivery, and officials are considering a helicopter drop for some of the valley’s most remote reaches. None of this will matter, though, because on Election Day there will not be a single voter or election worker in any of Chak’s polling centers. When I asked a U.S.-backed militia commander in the area, whom I will call Raqib, to explain why, he drew a finger across his throat, and said, “Taliban.”
The country’s first democratic Presidential contest without Hamid Karzai—who is prevented by term limits from seeking reëlection—is supposed to represent a milestone, one of the rare peaceful transitions of power in the nation’s history. But these elections will take place in a barely functioning state: the Taliban insurgency still rages in roughly half the country, where it often wields de facto authority. In these areas, casting a vote amounts to a death wish, because the Taliban view the exercise as traitorous. Election authorities have classified three thousand one hundred and forty of the six thousand eight hundred and forty-five polling stations as unsafe; large swathes of the country, particularly in the south and east, might see almost no turnout.
As the elections approach, the Taliban have stepped up attacks and assassinations, pushing the country to levels of violence not seen since 2009. Over the weekend, insurgents in Kabul stormed an N.G.O. compound and attacked the election-commission headquarters. Although casualties were limited, the rising insecurity has prompted the flight of many international observers and monitors. In Wardak, the province southwest of Kabul where Raqib heads a militia, most districts are under Taliban control. Near the turnoff on the highway to Chak, there is a renovated, single-story schoolhouse that will serve as the main polling center for the area; it sits on territory controlled by Raqib’s forces. “These few kilometres of highway are mine. And that side, too,” he said, pointing to roadside scrubland. “Everything else”—he motioned toward mud villages dotting the nearby foothills—“is Taliban.”
Full Article: Rigging the Afghan Vote : The New Yorker.