Kabul Voting Site Bombing Continues Militant Plan To Undermine Elections

On Sunday, 22 April, a blast cut through crowds of people at a voter registration center in Kabul.

The location had been set up by authorities to distribute identification cards to residents of the city for the upcoming national parliamentary elections set to take place in Afghanistan this coming October. The explosion killed 63 people and wounded scores of others.

The Khorasan Province of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The bombing occurred in the Dasht-e-Barchi area, where many of the country's Shia Hazara minority reside. ISIS identified the victims as “Rafidi Mushrikin,” or Shiite polytheists.

The voting station was a natural target for ISIS militants. The group has regularly denounced the democracy implemented in Afghanistan in its literature and statements. Thus any location associated with the democratic process in the country has been on the group’s hit list.

This isn’t the first incident in which militants have targeted election infrastructure. Last week, a voter registration center was attacked in Ghor province by Taliban gunmen. The attackers kidnapped two police officers stationed on site and three election staff members. The attack left five people dead, including a police commander, according to Afghan officials.   

The horrific incidents highlighted the concern of Afghans that the government is incapable of protecting the population as the country moves toward elections. The number of attacks on civilians has been growing since the beginning of the year. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported several weeks ago that civilian casualties caused by militants in the first three months of 2018 were six percent higher than during the same period in 2017.

UNAMA found that there were “1,500 civilian casualties” between January and March and that two-thirds of these were attributed to the Taliban, the Islamic State, and affiliated jihadists. While the Taliban’s violence accounts for most of the civilian casualties caused by militant attacks, the Islamic State’s Khorasan arm also contributed to the rising total.

Local news sources at the scene of Sunday's attack reported trust in the government to maintain safety was low.

"Now we know the government cannot provide us security: we have to get armed and protect ourselves," said one man. At one point, angry crowds began chanting "Death to the government!"

If intimidation is the goal of militants, it may be working. Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) reported recently that registration turnout has been relatively low. The group issued its first weekly roundup of voter data on Tuesday, noting only 370,669 people had so far registered.

The government has a long way to go to gain back the confidence of the population. With polls set to open in six months, it is doubtful how much progress can be made in enforcing the order necessary to carry out country-wide elections.  

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