Taliban militants have cut off the ink-stained fingers of 11 Afghan men as a punishment for disobeying their diktat in the crucial presidential run-off poll that saw a higher than expected turnout of 52%.
"AFG The insurgents who were defeated today cut off inked fingers of 11 voters in #Herat. The injured ppl transported to the hospital," Afghanistan's deputy interior minister Ayoub Salangi tweeted.
The gruesome incident took place on Saturday in Herat Province after the 11 men, mostly elders, who returned after casting their ballot in the run-off to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has been in office since 2001.
The injured men were taken to a hospital, Salangi said.
The election will decide whether former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah or ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani leads the war-torn country. This election will be the first time that power in Afghanistan has been democratically transferred.
Officials said over seven million people voted, a higher than expected turnout of 52% based on an estimated electorate of 13.5 million voters.
Vote counting has already started in some provinces, including northern Balkh and southern Kandahar, Afghan election officials said. However, the preliminary result is expected only on July 2 and the final result on July 22.
Taliban militants, who had threatened to disrupt the vote, launched low-level attacks in which at least 46 people were killed across the country.
In a statement, Taliban had warned people to "remain far away from the polling stations... lest you should be hurt or killed."
Election commission chief Ahmad Yousef Nooristani said fewer than 200 of the 6,365 polling stations were unable to operate because of security concerns.
Of those who turned out to vote, 38% were women and 62% were men, he was quoted as saying by the BBC.
Nooristani also said there had been some complaints of irregularities which would be investigated.
After casting his own ballot, President Karzai told voters that their participation would help lead to "stability and a prosperous life" in the country.
"In reality, today is the day that Afghanistan is stepping from a transition period to stability, development and peace," he said.
"Today is your day to come out and save your soil from being ruined, bring stability to your country, brighten its future, choose your president and found the future of children of this soil by your vote." Presidential candidate Abdullah thanked "the whole nation of participating in the election" and called for a full investigation in the allegations of fraud.
Abdullah had won 45% of the first-round vote, with Ghani securing 31.6% - neither achieved the 50% needed to avoid a second round.
As most foreign soldiers prepare to withdraw by the end of this year, the next president will face multiple challenges.
The election took place as the US-led Nato troops are preparing to withdraw after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, who were thrown out from power in 2001 for sheltering al-Qaeda masterminds behind the 9/11 terror attacks.
Even though the day was marked by violence, the International Security Assistance Force still lauded the election as a security success.
"ISAF commends the Afghan National Security Forces, who essentially conducted non-stop security operations following the April 5th elections," said an ISAF news release.
"The ANSF led all aspects of security, securing approximately 6,200 polling centers across the country. This is a historic accomplishment," CNN reported, quoting the ISAF as saying.
The Obama administration praised the "historic presidential election" held on Saturday.
"These elections are a significant step forward on Afghanistan's democratic path, and the courage and resolve of the Afghan people to make their voices heard is a testament to the importance of these elections to securing Afghanistan's future," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
"As the President said when he reaffirmed our continuing commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014, while the future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans, the United States will support the Afghan people as they continue the hard work of building a democracy," he said.
Though Abdullah was once an ally of Karzai, serving in his government as foreign minister, he has in recent years become an opponent. He challenged Karzai in the 2009 election but dropped out after the first round to protest what he said was large-scale voting fraud.
Ghani is a former academic and US citizen who gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009. He worked as an adviser to Karzai and as finance minister in his Cabinet.