KABUL : Afghan forces will provide security for the vast majority of polling stations in the upcoming presidential elections, an official said Saturday, a key test for the country as NATO troops withdraw.
A plan for security arrangements at the poll has been sent to the Afghan election commission for review, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters in Kabul.
“Based on our assessments, security can be provided to 6,431 polling centres out of 6,845 centres. The plan will cover 93.96 per cent of the country,” Mr Sediqqi said. “Around 414 centres will remain inactive, which is a small percentage and will not affect the election process,” he said without elaborating on their exact locations.
The bulk of NATO’s remaining troops in Afghanistan are due to pull out by the end of 2014 and a credible presidential election is seen as crucial to stability.
More than a thousand polling centres remained closed in the 2009 election, mostly in the southern and eastern provinces, and the polling was marred by allegations of fraud.
Afghanistan’s election on April 5 will be the country’s first ever democratic transfer of power, and the election is viewed as a test for 12 years of international intervention since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
It also remains a key test for around 350,000 Afghan security forces who have recently taken over full security responsibility from NATO, as the force completes its withdrawal.
“The biggest change this time is that security for the elections will be provided by Afghan security forces,” Sediqqi said.
President Hamid Karzai cannot stand for a third term, and 11 candidates are vying to succeed him.
Among the leading contenders are former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who ran against Karzai in 2009, the president’s low-profile elder brother Qayum Karzai and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
Overshadowing the elections is Karzai’s delay on signing a security deal to allow some US troops to remain in the country after 2014.
If the agreement endorsed by an assembly of elders is passed, up to 16,000 US troops will stay in Afghanistan to help fight Al-Qaeda insurgents and train the national army.
There are fears that if a deal is not reached - and the legal status of US forces has been a major sticking point - all American troops will pull out and local forces will struggle to contain the Taliban.
In this so-called “zero option” scenario, whoever emerges victorious after April 5 will face a much tougher task in maintaining Afghanistan’s fragile stability.