Afghanistan to close more polling stations because of security concerns

By Dusan Stojanovic, AP
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Poor security to keep more Afghan polls closed

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan election officials said Wednesday that scores of additional polling stations will be closed during the Sept. 18 parliamentary vote because of the deteriorating security situation in the country.

The state electoral commission said 81 of the 458 polling stations planned in Nangarhar province will be shut during the elections “due to deteriorating security conditions.” The tense eastern province bordering Pakistan is a center of the Taliban insurgency, with many militants entering the country from safe havens across the border.

Election officials had earlier announced that more than 900 other polling stations would remain shut nationwide because of security concerns and that 5,897 voting sites would be opened throughout Afghanistan. During last year’s fraud-marred presidential vote, 6,167 voting centers nominally operated.

The government and its foreign partners hope the elections will help consolidate the country’s shaky democracy and political stability, allowing the withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 NATO-led foreign troops in the country. But many Afghans and international observers fear the vote could turn bloody after the Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places and warned Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.

Security concerns were underscored by an assassination attempt Wednesday on the head of Zhari district in turbulent Kandahar province. It killed one of his bodyguards and wounded several others.

Kareem Jan said Taliban insurgents ambushed his convoy as he was returning to Kandahar city, adding that it was the third attempt on his life since he assumed office in June.

The election fears come amid pledges by Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center — a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses an anti-Islam philosophy — to burn copies of the Quran to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States that provoked the Afghan war.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, has warned that the burning of the Quran could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide.

“If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed,” Mohammad Mukhtar, a cleric and an election candidate for the Afghan parliament, said in Kabul. “No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed.”

Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist utmost respect be accorded to it and any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is considered deeply offensive.

In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.

Meanwhile, NATO reported Wednesday the death of one of its service members “following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan.” It did not provide details of the attack or the nationality of the victim.

The presence of coalition forces and allegations of Pakistani support for the Taliban featured prominently in speeches at a Kabul rally to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the death of legendary anti-Soviet guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. The ethnic Tajik commander was murdered by two al-Qaida members posing as journalists two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

“We thank the international community, but only Afghans, acting together here on the ground, can solve their own problems,” said Massoud’s brother, former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud.

Massoud also accused Pakistan of continuing to support the Taliban insurgency and called for international pressure on Pakistan to hand over Taliban leaders believed to be sheltering in the country’s lawless northwest regions.

“The Taliban are puppets, they have no power to threaten Afghans, they are fighting for the interests of Pakistan,” Massoud said.

“The government says talk to the Taliban, but it would be better to talk with their Pakistani bosses,” he said.

Ahmad Shah Massoud remains a revered figure among ethnic Tajiks living mainly in the north, but widely despised by Pashtuns in the south that form the core of the Taliban insurgency.

Amir Shah in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

will not be displayed