Afghans Prepare for Presidential Elections
Millions of Afghans are expected to vote in presidential elections on Saturday.
The Taliban is telling Afghans to stay away from voting stations.
Violence continues to rise since a deal between the Taliban and the United States collapsed early this month. The deal would have ended U.S. involvement in the Afghan conflict, America's longest war.
Campaigning for the Afghan elections had just started. The deal was expected to delay the vote and oust Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Now, the country is facing a number of challenges to holding the elections.
Ghani is the leading candidate. He faces accusations of corruption and abuse of power. His leading opponent is Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The two men have shared power for the past five years in what has been described as a unity government.
On Saturday, Afghan voters will be given a ballot with the names of 18 candidates. Most of the candidates have not campaigned or fully organized their election-day operations.
There are several other concerns about the planned vote.
Security concerns high
Taliban attacks have killed many people in recent weeks. The group now controls or strongly influences about half the country. It has condemned the elections and warned Afghans against voting. Militants allied with the Islamic State group also threatened voters. It operates mainly in eastern Afghanistan.
The country's Independent Election Commission sought security for 5,373 voting stations. However, security agencies said they were unable to guard 410 stations. So those will not open on Saturday.
A full one-third of the country's estimated 300,000-strong Afghan National Security and Defense Forces will be deployed on election day.
Corruption remains a problem
The U.S. government has warned all the candidates to keep the election honest. In a surprise announcement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo withdrew more than $160 million in aid money, saying Ghani's government was too corrupt.
The last presidential elections in 2014 were so problematic that U.S. officials intervened. International observers say they do not expect the U.S. government to act this time. As a result, losing candidates and their supporters may be more willing to dispute the voting results.
About 100,000 election observers will deploy for the vote. Most of them are local and support one of the candidates. The top candidates, Ghani and Abdullah, each have more than 26,000 observers registered. Only nine of the 18 candidates have registered their voting-day observers with the Independent Election Commission.
A lot of money is being spent on the presidential elections. It is estimated the voting process will cost $150 million. The Afghan government will pay $90 million. International donors will pay the remaining $59 million.
Afghanistan's former President Hamid Karzai has warned that elections could hurt efforts to find a peaceful end to 18 years of war.
Karzai called for U.S. officials and Taliban representatives to restart negotiations. However, President Trump declared the talks "dead" after a Taliban attack killed two coalition soldiers, including an American.
"We should first come to peace in Afghanistan and then conduct elections," Karzai told the AP on Tuesday.
I'm Susan Shand.