Taliban can ‘contest’ Afghan presidential election
KABUL - The Taliban could stand as candidates in Afgha-nistan’s next presidential election in 2014, the country’s top poll official said Wednesday, as a series of suspected insurgent bombings killed 17 civilians.President Hamid Karzai, who is serving his second term as leader of the war-torn nation, is constitutionally barred from running in the election and no clear candidate to succeed him has yet emerged.The vote, scheduled for April 5, 2014, is seen as crucial to stability after the withdrawal of NATO troops and Fazil Ahmad Manawi, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), insisted his body would act impartially. “We are even prepared to pave the ground for the armed opposition, be it the Taliban or Hezb-i-Islami, to participate in the election, either as voters or candidates,” Manawi told a news conference.“There will be no discrimination,” the IEC chief added, defending the body in response to a question about its impartiality.Hezb-i-Islami is the faction of former prime minister Gulbadin Hikmatyar which wages an insurgency along with the Taliban against Karzai’s Western-backed government. The Taliban, whose hardline regime was overthrown in 2001 by a US-led invasion for harbouring Osama bin Laden, did not take part in the 2009 election. Instead it launched polling day attacks that killed more than 20 people.At least 17 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday in roadside bombings which officials blamed on “the enemies of Afghanistan” - the term they use for the Taliban.In the deadliest incident, seven women and three children died when a blast tore through the vehicle in which they were travelling in Musa Qala district of Helmand province.The 2009 poll, in which Karzai was re-elected over former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, was marred by widespread allegations of fraud. The credibility of the 2014 vote is seen as key to avoiding an escalation in violence after the NATO withdrawal.Donor nations at a conference in Tokyo in July pledged $16 billion for Afghanistan to prevent the country from sliding back into turmoil when foreign combat troops depart, with several pre-conditions including presidential elections in 2014.The International Crisis Group think-tank warned in October that the Kabul government could fall apart after NATO troops withdraw, particularly if the presidential elections are affected by fraud.Security officials said they were confident they would learn lessons from 2009 as they seek to prevent violence in the run-up to the next election, only the third since the fall of the Taliban.“Afghan security institutions will start working to design a comprehensive plan for security of election,” said defence ministry chief of staff Shir Mohammad Karimi.Under the Afghan system, voters elect the president as an individual rather than as a representative of a party, and candidates must submit their nominations by October 6, 2013.The IEC will then rule on their admissibility and publish a final list of candidates on November 16.Initial results of the ballot will be announced on April 24 and final results on May 14, with May 28 set aside for any potential run-off vote. Provincial council elections will be held at the same time as the main poll.