KABUL — The Taliban are attempting to exact revenge on Afghan voters and disrupt the ballot count — part of a campaign to exploit the political uncertainty after last week’s presidential election and try to undermine the results.
Since the Aug. 20 election, Taliban fighters have launched nearly a dozen attacks. They have severed the fingers of voters, stolen ballot boxes, and murdered government officials. Afghan police have been reluctant to move into Taliban-controlled areas to quell the violence.
In Wardak province, west of Kabul, local officials say the insurgents have been setting up checkpoints to look for voters who are easily identifiable by the blue ink marks on their fingertips. In one such incident in Saydabad district, the Taliban killed three voters, according to witnesses. Also in Wardak, insurgents chopped off the fingers of four people who had voted at the provincial capital, according to local tribal elder Maualem Ghulab. Human-rights officials reported a similar attack in Kandahar shortly after the election.
In at least three provinces, insurgents also intercepted convoys carrying ballots and burned the papers, most recently on Wednesday. Election officials say the destroyed ballots represented a minuscule portion of total votes cast.
“Insurgents will use any excuse to try to paint the electoral process into the corner,” said Canadian army Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Afghanistan task force. “It’s up to the people to reject this.”
As of Wednesday, election officials said they had counted returns from about 17% of Afghanistan’s 24,367 polling stations. President Hamid Karzai’s lead widened from the first day’s announced results, with 42.3% of the vote for Mr. Karzai, 33.1% for former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and the remainder split among the nearly three dozen other candidates. The tallies, which are being released gradually over several days, so far make up a sample too small and unrepresentative to project a final tally.
While the Taliban’s attacks have done little to disrupt the vote count so far, they are expected to keep trying. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round of voting, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates, likely in October.
The attacks add to the unstable political situation stirred up in recent days by widespread allegations of vote-rigging. The top two contenders have both declared victory and accused the other of trying to steal the election. Officials haven’t yet released turnout figures for the Aug. 20 vote, leaving it unclear just how effective the Taliban were at keeping Afghans from the polls. Militants launched hundreds of small attacks on Election Day, killing 26 people.
The Taliban also have continued their efforts to destabilize the government. On Wednesday, insurgents killed a high-ranking provincial government official in the northern province of Kunduz and a district governor in Kandahar, the southern province that is the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace.
A day earlier, a truck bomb tore through a crowded section of Kandahar city, killing at least 43 and injuring 65. The Taliban denied responsibility, although they often refrain from taking responsibility for attacks in which large numbers of civilians are killed. The attack was the largest the city had seen in many months, but it wasn’t clear if the blast was related to the election.
Analysts worry the unsettled political climate is providing the Taliban more breathing room to operate and shift into attack mode.
“If the crisis in Kabul continues for some months, it may distract the government and give the Taliban a chance to launch an even stronger offensive,” said Habibullah Rafeh, policy analyst with the Kabul Academy of Sciences.
The absence of any major attack on Election Day prompted the U.S. military and Afghan security forces to declare their efforts to secure the vote a success.
In the week since the vote, the number of Taliban attacks has returned to this summer’s average of about 250 a week, down from more than 500 during election week, according to Sami Kovanen of the security analysis firm Tundra Security in Kabul. Insurgent activity typically tapers off during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started Friday.