A suicide bomber detonated his explosive at an election rally in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar on Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and wounding over 30, officials said, warning that the toll was likely to climb. According to Al-Jazeera, provincial governor spokesman Ataullah Khogyani said the attack happened at a rally of candidate Abdul Nasir Mohmmand. This attack came as campaigning began for parliamentary elections due on October 20.
“Elders were speaking at the meeting when there was suddenly a huge blast,” said Sayed Humayoun, who was at the meeting. “I was knocked unconscious but when I opened my eyes there were bodies scattered all around the blast area,” he said, adding that he saw dozens dead and wounded on the ground.
According to Reuters, the upcoming parliamentary elections come after a three-year delay and security officials have warned of the danger of militant attacks during the campaigns. Five candidates have been killed in attacks, according to the Independent Election Commission, and there are fears violence will escalate. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement from its Amaq news agency. The group has claimed a series of attacks this year that have killed many people in Nangarhar. According to Al-Jazeera, the Taliban and the Islamic State vowed to disrupt the election process as they ramp up attacks across the country. According to Reuters, this election is seen as a dry run for the more important presidential election next year, and a test of the government’s ability to provide security. Officials have warned that sustained violence could delay the process if it becomes unsafe for voters to go to polling stations.
There has been a push from the international community for the vote to happen before November’s ministerial meeting in Geneva, which the UN says is a “crucial moment” for the Afghan government and its foreign partners to show progress. Although the upcoming elections are important for the Afghan government, little preparation has been made. According to Al-Jazeera, bureaucratic inefficiency, allegations of fraud, and an eleventh-hour pledge for biometric verification of voters threaten to derail the election and any hope of a credible result. Around 54,000 members of Afghanistan’s security forces are expected to protect over 5,000 polling centers on election day. According to Al-Jazeera, more than 2,000 polling centers will be closed for security reasons.
Free and fair elections are something all countries should aspire to. Unfortunately, it is common to see violence occur when candidates campaign, particularly in already unstable countries. It is crucial that Afghanistan’s government and security forces work together to ensure maximum security for Afghanis at the polling stations on October 20. Fear of violence should not get in the way of free elections and cannot be used as an excuse to postpone the elections any longer. If the Afghan government and security forces cooperate, they can create a safer environment for voters. At the same time, there is little reason to rush elections just because of the Geneva meeting in November. A safer election process is a more important goal. As such, if the government and security forces do find it impossible to ensure security, the election should be postponed.
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