ISLAMABAD - As Afghanistan prepares for presidential elections on Saturday, the Taliban is again threatening to disrupt the polling, while the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has urged the insurgents to refrain from attacking civilians exercising their democratic right.
“The Islamic Emirate (a name used by the Taliban) directs its Mujahideen to prevent this process throughout the country by making use of everything at their disposal and activate their plans for its neutralization,” a Taliban statement read.
The statement said Afghans should stay home or risk being harmed in an attack.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, met with some members of the Taliban on Tuesday in Doha, where they maintain an unofficial political office, to discuss the issue of election-related violence.
“He highlighted that attacks directed against polling centers and civilians participating in the electoral process are clear violations of international law and may amount to war crimes. He furthermore stressed that perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable and urged the Taliban to retract any instructions which could disrupt elections,” a UNAMA statement issued Wednesday said.
The militant group has already claimed several attacks on election-related activity, including one in Parwan province that killed at least 30 people and wounded more than 50 others during a rally for incumbent President Ashraf Ghani.
In a separate statement issued Thursday, UNAMA reiterated its “deep concern” over the high number of civilian casualties.
“The disregard for civilian life exhibited by parties to the conflict in recent days, especially in indiscriminate attacks, is appalling,” said Yamamoto.
A recent Taliban-claimed attack on an Afghan intelligence agency’s building in Zabul province almost completely destroyed a nearby hospital and killed 25 civilians.
UNAMA also said two separate airstrikes against militant targets by the United States caused a high number of civilian casualties. One airstrike took place September 19 in Nangarhar, while the other occurred in Helmand September 22.
“In Nangarhar, UNAMA’s preliminary findings indicate that the airstrikes killed at least 16 civilians and injured 12 others. In Helmand, United States and Afghan forces conducted a ground operation, supported by U.S. airstrikes, with preliminary findings indicating that at least 20 civilians were killed and injured, mainly women and children,” according to the UNAMA statement.
A U.S. military official said earlier this week that U.S. and Afghan security forces were conducting an operation against al-Qaida terrorists in the town of Musa Qala in Helmand when heavy gunfire broke out. Officials say the incident is under investigation.
A recent BBC investigation found that an average of 74 civilians were killed daily in Afghanistan during the month of August.
“We confirmed 611 security incidents in which 2,307 people died,” a BBC report said.
This Saturday marks the fourth presidential election in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Close to 10 million registered voters, 30 percent of them women, will choose from a list of 18 candidates, although three of them have unofficially dropped out.
The winning candidate needs to obtain more than 50 percent of the vote. If none of the candidates gets that, the election goes to a second round in which only the two leading candidates participate. Most observers believe the current election has a high probability of going to a second round.
To deal with Taliban and other threats, including from the Islamic State terror group, around 72,000 members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces will be responsible for securing almost 5,000 polling centers across Afghanistan. Another 20,000 to 30,000 more will act as reserve forces, ready to be deployed to any part of the country that needs reinforcements.
News reports also say authorities have banned trucks from the streets of the capital, Kabul, to prevent suicide bombings.