Millions of Afghans voted yesterday in their first parliamentary elections since 1969, virtually completing the formation of a national government to replace the militant Muslim Taliban regime.
But many Afghans voiced confusion and uncertainty about the process. The day lacked the confident, celebratory atmosphere of October's presidential election, and turnout appeared to be lower than last year, monitoring groups said.
Voters struggled to master poster-sized ballots that ran as long as eight pages and complained of intimidation by Taliban or local strongmen around the country. In a handful of places, Taliban or allied militants staged attacks, but they failed to disrupt the vote.
The completion of a national government, one that will give unprecedented political voice to women, is a big step toward democracy for a country whose political struggles have been fought with guns for more than 20 years. "Before, we did a lot of fighting," said a policeman named Aziz Ullah after voting in Paghman, west of the capital, Kabul. "This is a chance to vote for a peaceful future," reports Newsday.
According to the New Zeeland Herald, Taliban have called on Afghans to boycott the polls and warned they could be caught up in attacks on foreign troops.
Lieutenant-General Karl Eikenberry, commander of US-led forces in the Muslim country, said Taleban insurgents would not hesitate to attack election workers or voters to try to disrupt the ballot, but they would not succeed.
He predicted a record turnout from the 12.5 million registered to vote.
In a televised pre-election address President Hamid Karzai urged Afghans to vote freely and turn out in large numbers, saying this would help bring a "bright and prosperous future".
A high turnout would be a boost for the US administration, allowing it to portray Afghanistan as a success to set against the gloom from Iraq and Hurricane Katrina in the United States.
The top UN official in the country said the elections signaled the emergence of a new political culture and showed that Afghanistan could resist the rule of the gun.
More than 1,000 people have been killed this year most of them guerrillas, but including 49 US troops in the bloodiest period since US-led forces overthrew the Taleban in 2001 for failing to give up September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.