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
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
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

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes