The Taliban have warned Afghans not to vote in the upcoming presidential election, and told their fighters to “use all force” to disrupt the ballot.
In the first formal threat of violence from the group over the 5 April election, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the organisation is also telling clerics across the country to call the election “an American conspiracy.”
The election is regarded as a marker of the country’s stability before international combat troops are removed at the end of this year.
The incumbent President Hamid Karzai is not in the race since he cannot run for a third term.
The statement added that Afghans should “reject completely” the election and not put themselves in danger by going to the polls.
Although it did not specify the exact threat, in the 2009 presidential election, election workers, candidates and voters were killed and assaulted.
“We have given orders to all our mujahedeen (holy warriors) to use all force at its disposal to disrupt these upcoming sham elections to target all its workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices,” the statement said.
It also warned the government against using public buildings, such as mosques and schools, for polling.
While the statement was the first formal warning of violence, the Taliban has taken responsibility for a number of election-campaign related attacks.
Last month in the western province of Herat, the group shot and killed a campaign worker of the current favourite Abdullah Abdullah.
A suicide bomb attack also in Herat targeted – but did not kill - Ismail Khan, who is running for to be first vice-presidentm, while in northern Kunduz province, a member of the Independent Election Commission was also shot and killed.
The interior ministry previously said there may be some polling stations in the restive south of Afghanistan that might not open because of security concerns, but no numbers were given.
Previous elections have been marred by allegations of widespread fraud, and some surveys show the population harbours a deep mistrust toward the polling and candidates.
Additional reporting by AP