Voting for parliamentary elections in Afghanistan’s second city has been postponed after a key security official was assassinated and the country braced for widespread insurgent violence on polling day.
Taliban commanders on Friday tried to further disrupt the election by issuing a nationwide demand for people to remain at home rather than head to the polls.
The vote is seen as a test of president Ashraf Ghani’s grip on the country after a grim year of soaring casualties among his forces and civilians and further encroachment by a buoyant Taliban.
Dr Ghani’s weary international backers, particularly Donald Trump, are desperate for signs of stability and progress after 17-years of pouring troops and money into the country.
Yet preparations were dealt a severe blow on Thursday when Kandahar’s powerful police chief, Gen Abdul Raziq, was shot dead in an insider attack claimed by the Taliban.
Gen Raziq had been a bastion against Taliban encroachment in the region with a ruthless campaign against the insurgents which had largely stabilised Kandahar and made him the most powerful government figure in southern Afghanistan.
The attack at a meeting with US commander, Gen Scott Miller, killed the local intelligence chief and critically wounded the provincial governor, wiping out the local leadership at a stroke.
Kandahar, once considered the stronghold of the Taliban movement, was on edge the day after the attack, as funerals were held and officials decided to postpone voting for a week.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt an election they declare a sham and its military council issued a statement warning voters that “participation in this process is aiding the invaders”. It ordered Afghans to “remain indoors and desist from bringing out any means of transport”. A bloody or badly flawed election is predicted to strengthen the Taliban’s hand in fledgling talks to find a political settlement to the conflict.
More than nine million Afghans are registered to vote in what is only the third parliamentary poll since the Taliban were ousted after the 9/11 attacks.
Around 2,500 candidates are standing for 249 seats in a parliament which has in the past decade gained a reputation for graft and greed.
This year’s polls have already been delayed since 2015 because of rifts within Dr Ghani’s government and rows how to clean up the voting system.
The vote sees a new generation of election hopefuls, many younger and better educated than previous candidates, take on an old guard frequently tainted with accusations of corruption or involvement in the bloodshed of the 1990s civil war.
But the new generation also contains a raft of candidates whose fathers were formerly some of the country’s most prominent Mujahideen warlords of the 1990s, and who have been towering figures of Afghan life for decades.
This year’s voting lists include children of notorious leaders including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Uzbek strongman Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, and the Herat powerbroker Ismail Khan.
Jamaluddin Hekmatyar, whose father is remembered for indiscriminately bombarding Kabul as he squabbled with his former comrades in the 1990s, is standing as a member of his father’s Hezb-e Islami party.
The 42-year-old told the Telegraph he had not gained his candidacy through nepotism and wanted to “represent the people and fight for their rights”.
“I have learned from my father to fight for our values, each nation has the right to be independent and we must fight for a good future, no matter how long that fight would be but we should resist.”
He said it was not for him to answer for the deeds of the Mujahideen commanders.
“I think it’s not a good analysis if we say only Mujahideen leaders committed mistakes here, we should note foreigners role in Afghanistan too.”
The possible rise of children whose fathers presided over the destruction of the 1990s is eyed warily by many Afghans.
“There will be no deference between the Mujahideen leaders and their children,” said one Herat resident who lost two uncles during the barbarity of the 1990s, “they are just a shadow of their dads”.
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“Mujahideen leaders want to rule their policies through their children. They are all educated in the West by the money that their dads received by selling the blood of innocent Afghans.”