In Afghanistan the bombs went off – but still millions voted

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Against a backdrop of Taliban attacks, half the Afghan electorate turn out to have their say on the future of this war-torn state

Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to cast their ballot in the country's second-ever presidential election yesterday but the turnout looked to be well down on the poll that brought Hamid Karzai to power, hinting at turbulence when initial results are announced in a few days time.

The Associated Press reported that only 40-50 per cent of Afghanistan's 15 million registered voters had cast ballots, compared to 70 per cent in 2004. But Mr Karzai brushed aside such concerns and praised Afghans for having the courage to take part in the democratic process.

"The Afghan people braved rockets, bombs and intimidation and came out to vote," he said after the polls closed. "We'll see what the turnout was, but they came out to vote. That is great."

Earlier in the day, the incumbent cast his ballot at a Kabul high school. Dressed in his traditional purple and green-striped robe, he dipped his index finger into indelible ink – used to prevent people voting twice – and held his hand aloft for the cameras. Heading into yesterday's vote, opinion polls gave him 44 per cent of the vote, almost 20 points ahead of his nearest rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah but not more than the 50 per cent needed to avoid a run-off.

Barack Obama has made Afghan-istan his war, boosting the number of US troops to more than 60,000 in a bid to decisively crush the Taliban, and after the polls closed he commented: "We had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban's efforts to disrupt it." His envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, toured polling stations in the capital Kabul and declared: "So far every prediction of disaster has turned out to be wrong."

Afghan electoral officials said 6,192 polling stations had opened from the mountains of the north to the poppy fields of the south, about 94 per cent of the planned total. The government said nine civilians and 14 members of the security forces had been killed in a total of 135 incidents across the country on polling day. Voting was extended for an hour to compensate for some temporary security closures.

In Lashkar Gah, the capital of the volatile southern province of Helmand, the polls had been open less than 20 minutes when the first Taliban rocket hit. Just metres from the edge of a football field where election officials were still waiting for their first voter, the young boy lay dying.

This first casualty of the militants' campaign to disrupt the polls was too young even to vote, but he had been cycling past a polling station with his brother when the rocket struck. Miraculously, his sibling was unscathed – but inconsolable. He staggered around a pool of blood, shell-shocked and screaming, as medics heaved his brother's lifeless body into the back of an ambulance. The sound of sirens had barely faded and police were still hosing down the road when Helmand's governor, Gulab Mangal, arrived to cast his vote.

However, turnout in this southern Pashtun belt, the focal point of the country's worsening war where the Taliban have been particularly active in threatening retribution on those taking part in the polls, was thought to have been particularly hard hit. Voter numbers were said to be 40 per cent lower than five years ago. There was also a downturn in attendance in the eastern part of the country which had voted solidly for Mr Karzai last time around, with some observers estimating his support there had shrunk to about 30 per cent.

Turnout, however, was reported to be relatively high in the northern Tajik areas where Mr Abdullah has his power base, increasing the possibility that the President would be forced into a second round in October, and Afghanistan might face an uncertain and insecure few weeks.

Mr Abdullah's supporters have warned that there will be "Tehran-style" disturbances if Mr Karzai is declared the outright winner with the required 50 per cent of the votes in the first round and there is evidence of electoral malpractice. In Helmand, The Independent witnessed ballot-stuffing, children voting and election officials tallying votes for Mr Karzai without so much as glancing at the ballot papers. There were also concerns about the proportion of women that were actually able to vote yesterday because of a shortage of female election officials in this deeply conservative country. It was perhaps to counter those fears that presidential aides released a rare photo of Mr Karzai's wife casting her vote, and Mr Abdullah, hailing a "a day of change", voted alongside his spouse.

Foreshadowing Washington's official assessment, General David Petraeus, the US Central Commander, said polling day had gone "reasonably well". "The vast majority of the Afghan population did have the opportunity to cast their ballot," he told reporters in London after speaking to General Stanley McCrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan. Turnout was slow in Kabul and the south, he conceded, but it had built during the day. General Petraeus, who led the US surge in Iraq, said once the Afghan poll results were announced, the controversial policy of "talking to the Taliban" could begin to be implemented.

"You cannot kill or capture your way out of an insurgency," said General Petraeus. "In Iraq what we did was, through tribal leaders, get [insurgents] to realise that their future lay in being part of the new Iraq. As the new [Afghan] government gets settled... they will see how to pursue reconciliation at a local level. You have to identify the reconcilables and try to reintegrate them and then unfortunately you do have kill, capture or run off the irreconcilables."

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game