Election in strategic Kandahar delayed after killing of commander

KABUL: Saturday’s parliamentary election in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar will be delayed by a week after the assassination of one of the country’s most powerful security chiefs dealt a stunning blow to the Western-backed government.
General Abdul Razeq, the Kandahar police commander, was killed outside the provincial governor’s office on Thursday, when a bodyguard opened fire on a group of officials as they left a meeting with General Scott Miller, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Miller was not wounded but the regional intelligence agency commander was killed and the provincial governor severely wounded, crippling the leadership of one of the country’s most strategically important provinces.
Although nominally a provincial police chief, Razeq was one of the most powerful political figures in Afghanistan and a formidable opponent of the Taliban, with unchallenged authority across the volatile south of the country.
The decision to suspend the vote was taken over the objections of some officials who warned that any delay would threaten the whole process and hand the Taliban a major propaganda victory.
Miller himself gave a show of confidence on Friday, filming a television interview on the street outside the US Embassy in Kabul and assuring Afghanistan of continued support.
“My message to the people of Afghanistan has been very consistent: you have every right to be proud of your security forces and the preparations that made for this election despite this unfortunate event, tragic event, down in Kandahar,” he said.
Saturday’s election has been seen as a major test of the government’s ability to organise a nationwide ballot ahead of the more important presidential election next April.
But the shock of Razeq’s death meant the people of Kandahar were “morally not ready to vote”, Hafizullah Hashimi, spokesman of the Independent Election Commission, said.
The Taliban issued a fresh warning not to vote on Friday, telling people to stay at home and saying they would shut down roads and would be “closely monitoring all developments”.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a statement of its own expressing concern at Taliban threats to attack schools and other buildings used as polling centres.
“UNAMA urges the Taliban to respect and protect civilians and not to threaten them or carry out violence,” it said.
On top of mounting security concerns, the elections have been dogged by technical and organisational problems, notably around the use of untested biometric voter verification equipment rushed in after allegations of widespread voter fraud.
Thursday’s attack underlined how precarious the situation remains in Afghanistan after more than 17 years of war despite preliminary contacts between Taliban and US officials to find a basis for future peace talks.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said it was too soon to say what effect Razeq’s death would have but added that the US military’s mission was unaltered.
“We need to find who’s done this,” Mattis told reporters travelling with him in the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore. — Reuters