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Afghans Defy Taliban, Cast Votes in Presidential Election

August 20, 2009 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: They started counting the votes today in Afghanistan’s presidential election. The Afghan government called the voting process a success, despite scattered violence that killed 26 people across the country.

We have two Independent Television News reports from Kabul. Nick Paton Walsh begins our lead story coverage.

NICK PATON WALSH: This is what the authorities wanted the world to see: Afghanistan’s women, leading the way to vote, democracy having its day, despite a week of sporadic violence aimed at keeping voters away.

And this is what they tried to hide: a police station attacked by the Taliban in Kabul’s suburbs, one of 135 incidents nationwide in which at least 26 people died, mostly civilians.

The government had tried to stop reporting of election violence, arresting one journalist, but at least two blasts still hit Kabul. But this was better than feared, a “success,” said the president.

HAMID KARZAI, President of Afghanistan (through translator): The people of Afghanistan dared rockets, bombs and intimidation, and came out to vote.

NICK PATON WALSH: This was the skyline of Helmand, though, where dozens of British and American troops have died in a push to create security for the election. A polling station hit by a rocket and these ordinary voters. Just turning up means risking your life.

Many of the 5 percent of voting stations that didn’t open apparently here in the south.

NAJBULLAH KHAN, Helmand resident (through translator): I have come to vote. The situation is very bad. Three to four rockets landed. This is a big problem. If there was no security concern, more people would have taken part.

NICK PATON WALSH: This is one of Kabul’s safest polling stations, but even it was not trouble-free. Two hours into voting, leading candidates were crying foul. Another candidate claiming the indelible ink marking voters’ fingers could just wash off.

AFGHAN MAN: I vote about 7:20, and I used this mark, and the ink, that is not here.

NICK PATON WALSH: These people are using the ordinary household bleach supplied by Mr. Blasijov to wash off some of the indelible ink from their fingers. I tried that a few moments ago, had some indelible ink on the end of my little finger. It was purple, but that detergent bleach seems to have washed most of the ink off, a massive problem here, because this indelible ink was supposed to be the way to prevent repeat voting in the country.

A partial traffic ban brought unnatural order to the capital. These men didn’t vote or even carry their voting cards with them in case they bumped into the Taliban.

Not far from the capital, in the Wardak province, the Taliban were in control yesterday on this road. These men’s commander telling us by phone that nobody voted in his area.

TALIBAN COMMANDER (through translator): No one has been threatened with any punishment, as nobody has voted here, but we have told them this election is a fiction set up by the Americans and funded by the foreigners.

NICK PATON WALSH: Some voting stations closed and then re-opened to give people more time after fears the turnout was low.