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Taliban strikes in run-up to Afghan election -

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Taliban strikes in run-up to Afghan election

Barbara Miller reported this story on Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:33:00

ELEANOR HALL: Let's go now to Afghanistan where Taliban attacks are threatening to undermine the
staging of presidential elections, which are due to be held there is a little over a week's time.

The militants have launched attacks on government buildings in Logar province, close to Kabul.

And concerns are growing that many voters will be too afraid to go to the polls.

Barbara Miller has our report.

BARBARA MILLER: The attacks on Puli Alam began shortly after midnight. The city, the capital of
Logar province, lies only about 60 kilometres from Kabul.

Taliban militants are reported to have fired rockets on the headquarters of the chief of police and
on the local governor's compound.

This shopkeeper was nearby.

SHOPKEEPER (translated): There was gunfire and RPG fire towards the police headquarters. The battle
started at midnight until now. A Corolla car exploded near the building.

BARBARA MILLER: Several police officers, two civilians and six militants are reported to have been
killed in the attacks and ensuing gun battle.

It's the latest in a string of brazen attacks by the Taliban in the run-up to presidential
elections on August the 20th, and comes as the US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley
McCrystal, prepares to deliver a key assessment of the conflict to the US Congress.

General McCrystal told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that the Taliban had advanced out of their
traditional strongholds in the south and east and was a very aggressive enemy.

The increasing violence is threatening to undermine the elections. At the weekend the United
Nations said insurgent violence and threats could prevent large numbers of Afghans from voting.

And Zakaria Barakzai, an official with the Afghan Election Commission is warning that in some areas
voting may be too dangerous.

ZAKARIA BARAKZAI (translated): There's a strong possibility that 93 polling stations will not be
opened in 10 districts where the Government doesn't have control. Let me explain to you that the
security forces have launched major operations in 35 districts, and by the 16th of August they will
be able to give the commission a final list of the polling stations that will not be opened.

BARBARA MILLER: In the capital Kabul at least, this young voter is looking forward to election day.

KABUL LOCAL (translated): Today I've come to get my voting card for the first time. This election
is important, and can make a better future because the younger generation can elect their president
themselves.

And I want all Afghan people - my sisters and brothers, to come out and get their card and vote,
because the young people must choose their own president.

BARBARA MILLER: But Professor Amin Saikal the director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies
at the Australian National University says the spate of Taliban attacks will have a significant
impact on the elections.

AMIN SAIKAL: Well I think it's unlikely to derail the elections because it looks like the
international community is absolutely committed to see this election being held. But it will
certainly cause a lot of disruption and it could possibly influence the outcome of the elections
because these attacks are most likely to prevent a number of people really going to the polling
booths.

BARBARA MILLER: And the United Nations has expressed concern, among others, that voter turn-out
will be low. Do you expect that to be the case?

AMIN SAIKAL: I think that's highly possible and it will be particularly low in the hot zone of the
insurgency, in the south and the east of Afghanistan, and of course that's where the ethnic Pashtun
population of Afghanistan is concentrated. And the Taliban certainly come from this ethnic
background.

BARBARA MILLER: Are Afghan people then, likely to accept the result of this vote?

AMIN SAIKAL: I think there's going to be quite a bit of dispute over it, simply because that those
who would lose the elections probably will argue that not enough people had turned up, and also
there's certain areas where people could not really vote.

And I think these could provide grounds for controversy and whoever's going to win the election
would not be in a very strong position.

BARBARA MILLER: The winner is still expected to be Hamid Karzai. But President Karzai's strongest
challenger so far, the former foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah is gaining ground.

And analysts say the election may well go to a run-off.

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.