Millions of Afghans yesterday risked their lives to vote in a presidential election despite blood-curdling Taliban threats to kill or chop off the ears, noses, or fingers of anyone that dared to vote. Despite at least 135 attacks that killed 26 people, the elections proceeded as scheduled, in defiance of Taliban threats.
Voter turnout was dampened in areas where Taliban forces were strong enough to make good on their threats, primarily in southern areas that voted heavily in favor of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2004. This could prevent Karzai from scoring a first round victory by securing more than 50 percent of the votes and would require a second round runoff with his leading challenger, which probably will be his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah.
The ballot counting will take several days, but preliminary results may soon be announced. The International Republican Institute, which monitored the election, issued a statement that found “much to praise” about the election process so far. But the real test will be the extent to which Afghan leaders can effectively cooperate after the elections to build a more stable and prosperous Afghanistan.
The Obama Administration also will be severely tested in maintaining public support for the war in Afghanistan in the run-up to the 2010 U.S. elections. General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, acknowledged to the BBC that the U.S.-led western coalition needs to show progress in Afghanistan before the U.S. elections next November. Heritage Foundation Vice President Kim Holmes also warned yesterday that President Obama must face down the dovish wing of his own party and reach out to Republicans on Capitol Hill to maintain congressional support for the war. It is likely that the war in Afghanistan will enter a crucial period in the months between the Afghan and American elections.
For more on Afghanistan’s elections see: Afghan Elections Offer Hope for the Future