HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) – Gunmen have attacked a voter registration centre in Afghanistan, kidnapping five people, including three election employees, and destroying documents, officials said Wednesday.
The incident in the central province of Ghor on Tuesday underscores concerns about security in the lead-up to the war-torn country’s long-delayed legislative elections scheduled for October 20.
Armed men stormed the centre in Aliyar district as Independent Election Commission staff were registering voters, provincial police spokesman Mohammad Iqbal Nizami told AFP, blaming the Taliban.
Nizami said the militants abducted three IEC staff and two policemen charged with protecting the registration centre.
“They also set all the voter registration materials on fire,” Nizami said.
“We are investigating and have launched a search operation.”
Ghor governor spokesman Abdul Hai Khatibi confirmed the incident and said tribal leaders and elders were in talks with the local Taliban to free the IEC staff and police.
Afghanistan last weekend began registering voters as it seeks to ensure that the parliamentary and district council elections — which are a test-run for the presidential poll next year — are seen as credible and fraud-free.
In an operation that will last for two months, authorities hope to register up to 14 million adults at more than 7,000 polling centres — an ambitious goal in a country where militants control or contest much of the territory.
IEC officials have acknowledged that ensuring security at voter registration centres, particularly in rural areas, will be a major challenge.
Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces, already struggling to get the upper hand on the battlefield, have been tasked with protecting voter registration centres, which will be used as polling stations on election day.
The Taliban was not immediately available to comment on the attack in Ghor, but the group claimed responsibility for most of the violence during the 2014 presidential election.
More than 50,000 people in major cities have so far registered to vote, an IEC official told AFP on Wednesday.
He acknowledged it had “started slowly” but the process was gaining momentum.
The polls were originally set to be held in 2015 following presidential elections the previous year, but were repeatedly pushed back due to security fears and logistical issues within the fragile unity government.
If held, candidates will contest the 249 seats in the National Assembly for five-year terms. The country will also hold regional elections in tandem in hundreds of districts across Afghanistan — some of which are outside Kabul’s control.