Amanda Hodge, in Kabul | August 17
THE Taliban has for the first time threatened to attack polling stations directly in Afghanistan's crucial presidential elections on Thursday, just hours before President Hamid Karzai prepared to face his first election debate on national television.
The threat, in leaflets distributed across southern Afghanistan and authenticated by a Taliban spokesman, is bad news for the President, who faces a last-minute poll surge by his closest presidential rival and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah.
"This is to inform respected residents that you must not participate in the elections so as not to become a victim of our operations, because we will use new tactics," said one leaflet posted in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
All voters were allies of the Afghan government and foreign forces and therefore enemies of Islam, it added.
"We are using new tactics targeting election centres. If anyone is harmed in and around election centres, they will be responsible because we have informed them in advance," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said.
While Mr Karzai remains the frontrunner in Afghanistan's second presidential elections this Thursday, his campaign has been marred by security threats amid an escalating Taliban campaign to derail and discredit the elections. Late last month, the Taliban ordered voters to boycott the polls and join them in waging holy war to "liberate" Afghanistan.
Taliban militants have also been holding community shuras (meetings) across the conservative Pashtun-dominated south - Mr Karzai's voter heartland - to appeal for support.
But the latest warnings mark the first direct Taliban threat to attack polling sites.
The soaring insurgent attacks have raised concerns that voters will stay away from the polling centres on Thursday, jeopardising the legitimacy of the elections.
A massive suicide bombing on Saturday morning in the heart of Kabul's embassy district has heightened those fears. Read more here ...
Source: The Australian