Kabul, Afghans went to the polls on Saturday to elect a new President amid high security across the war-torn country as the Taliban has threatened to boycott the voting process.
This is the fourth presidential election in Afghanistan since 2001 when American troops invaded the country to oust the Taliban regime.
As polling centres opened at 7 a.m., hundreds of Afghans were seen queuing up to cast their ballots. Voting will end at 3 p.m., Xinhua news agency reported.
The election time is likely to be extended, according to the the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC).
Due to Taliban threats, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has allowed voting in only 4,942 out of the total 7,385 polling centres.
Of these, 675 voting centres have been designated highly sensitive, while 907 face low-security threats. Some 3,360 have been declared fully secure for voting.
Voting will not take place in areas under Taliban control.
Some 9.6 million Afghans – 34.5 per cent of them women – are eligible to vote.
The IEC has said that it was using biometric devices in order to avoid multiple votes and identify people involved in fraud in the wake of the October 2018 parliamentary elections which were rife with accusations of fraud.
A total of 15 candidates are in the fray, including incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking a second term in office, and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Efe news reported.
Ghani and Abdullah cast their votes at two different polling centres in Kabul earlier in the day and the two have urged Afghans to take part in the process.
Another major candidate is former warlord and former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – known as the “Butcher of Kabul” for continuously bombing the capital in 1992 during the Afghan civil war, killing at least 1,000 people and leaving more than 8,000 injured in his wake.
Meanwhile, at least 15 people were injured in a blast that hit a polling centre in Kandahar province. No group has claimed responsibility.
The Afghan government has deployed 72,000 soldiers across the country to maintain law and order, according to the Interior Ministry.
An additional 30,000 troops were on standby to respond to any imminent Taliban attack.
Ahead of the election, the Taliban said they would boycott the poll process claiming that they were a farce orchestrated by the US.
During the election campaign, which kicked off towards the end of July, insurgents have carried out several attacks, including one on September 17 during a rally by Ghani in which at least 30 people were killed and 51 injured.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid on Thursday called the election a “fake process of the American invaders and their few servile slaves” and promised to disrupt it “by attacking all security personnel that guard this process and by targeting offices and centres that operate for this staged show”.
The election also comes after the Taliban and the US have held nine rounds of negotiations for more than a year in Qatar. Both sides had reached a draft agreement when US President Donald Trump decided earlier this month to suspend negotiations with the insurgents.
But if Trump decides to resume the talks, the newly elected Afghan President will find himself required to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, something on the agendas of most candidates.