Taliban fights the forgotten war as Afghanistan goes to the polls

But the road from Kabul to Kandahar tells a different story. Last year the rebuilt road was hailed as a triumph of the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Today, it's so dangerous that few want to drive down it. They say you can see the Taliban in broad daylight on the southern stretches, riding past on motorbikes. One Afghan said he stopped for fuel, and was told the Taliban had just been through the petrol station with a car full of rockets.

When last year's presidential elections passed without any major attacks, the Taliban were written off as has-beens. But this year the Taliban are back with a vengeance. More than 1,200 people have died in insurgent violence already, making 2005 by far the bloodiest year since the overthrow of the Taliban government.

"Why should they stick to a Western timetable? Why hit the elections when they can hit any time they want?" says Joanna Nathan of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

American soldiers have been quoted as saying they thought Afghanistan would be an easy ride after Iraq, only to find the Taliban fighting even harder than the Iraqi insurgents. The Taliban shot down an American helicopter on June with 16 US soldiers on board. Two weeks ago, a British security guard was forced out of his car at gunpoint by the Taliban, taken into the nearby mountains and shot dead. An election candidate was dragged from his home in Helmand and killed by suspected Taliban yesterday - the sixth candidate to be assassinated.

Local officials, police chiefs loyal to the Kabul government and even Muslim clerics have been abducted and killed in the major cities of the south and east. The Taliban have their own checkpoints on the roads, especially after nightfall. In remote areas, government forces are only in control of the towns.

It is into all this that British troops will have to wade under plans to lead the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) into the south. The US wants Isaf to move into the troubled south and east so it can start scaling back its forces. The official line from the Americans and their allies is that the higher death toll this year is a result of a more concentrated effort to root out the Taliban by their forces. But independent observers say this does not hold up to scrutiny.

"What happened is that during the winter, someone sat down with the books and learnt how to fight a guerrilla war," says a security source. The Taliban's strategy and tactics have been transformed this year. Instead of trying to take on US and Afghan forces head-on, they have adopted classic guerrilla hit-and-run tactics, targeting anyone they consider a collaborator and using sophisticated car bombs and other explosive devices to kill indiscriminately - a tactic that has brought chaos to Iraq.

The Afghan insurgency is on nothing like the same scale as that in Iraq - and it is unlikely to reach it. It is confined to the Pashtun-dominated south and east that are the Taliban's heartlands, and has been unable to have any serious impact on Kabul. But observers say there is little hope for a stable Afghanistan so long as half the country is crippled by the insurgency.

It is against this backdrop of rising violence that the elections are being held. Afghans' enthusiasm for democracy remains undiminished. But the candidates include many former warlords and commanders, including Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Younis Qanooni, accused by human rights groups of crimes against humanity during the civil war.

The elections themselves may also cause violence, because of what is called here the "assassination clause". In regulations that President Hamid Karzai himself spelt out on television, if any election winner is physically unable to take his seat in parliament, it goes to the runner-up. In a country as steeped in violence as Afghanistan, that is an invitation to the losers to assassinate the winners, and take their seats.

In Kabul they are predicting that the time between 22 October, when the final results are declared, and 2 November, when parliament is supposed to meet, could be bloody.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn