| JALALABAD, Afghanistan, April 4
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, April 4 The Taliban have
launched a violent campaign to disrupt this weekend's
presidential election in Afghanistan, but in a restive eastern
corner of the country they are paying villagers to surrender
their voting cards.
Residents in Nangarhar province, which lies on the border
with Pakistan, said local Taliban militants have been offering
voters 500 Pakistani rupees - the equivalent of just over $5 -
to opt out of the election.
"At first we thought the Taliban were trying to trick us and
wanted to find out who had voter cards, but later we found out
that they were honest and paid money," said Ahmad Shah, a youth
in a village just outside the city of Jalalabad.
The Taliban did not respond to a request for comment.
Saturday's election will bring the first democratic transfer
of power in war-torn Afghanistan and an end to the rule of
President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since the ouster
of a Taliban regime in late 2001. The Taliban have branded the
election a Western-backed sham.
The Independent Election Commission has said at least 10
percent of polling stations will not be able to open due to the
threat of violence, the majority of them in the east where the
insurgents are most active.
"When the Taliban are in control and warn people not to
vote, and instead pay money for your voter card, it's not a bad
thing," Haji Khan Wali, another man in the village, where the
Pakistani rupee is more commonly used than the local currency,
"People here have to think more about finding bread to feed
their families than the election. To tell you the truth, half
the people here don't know anything about the election," said
Khan, wearing a white turban and long beard.
Local officials said they were aware of such reports from
remote areas of Nangarhar, which are under Taliban influence.
Southern and eastern parts Afghanistan are dominated by
Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group, which has
traditionally enjoyed strong political influence.
Karzai is a Pashtun, which made him an obvious choice for
many in these regions at the 2009 election, but the three
frontrunners to succeed him are also Pashtun. Of them, the one
with the closest links to eastern areas bordering lawless lands
inside Pakistan is Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official.
Influential tribal elders say they would support any of the
three candidates, but many people in remote areas of the region
won't be casting a vote anyway.
In Nangarhar alone, 115 polling stations will not open due
to concerns about mass fraud and ballot-stuffing as well as
security, the provincial election chief, Akhtar Mohammad Ajmal,
told Reuters. A 10-year-old was caught with 1,200 fake voting
cards in neighbouring Kunar province this week.
The 2009 presidential election was marred by widespread
fraud and another flawed election would undermine attempts by
the United States and its allies to foster democracy ahead of
the departure of foreign troops at the end of this year.
(Editing by John Chalmers and Ron Popeski)