President Hamid Karzai on Saturday called on Taliban and other militants to "vote for the president they want" in Afghanistan's presidential election, while a Taliban spokesman said militants would "disrupt" the vote without harming civilians. Forty-one candidates are running for president in the Aug. 20 vote. A recent poll showed Karzai with a big lead over his opponents despite accusations of widespread government corruption and the increasingly bloody Taliban-led insurgency.
"I call upon the Taliban to come and participate in Afghanistan's election, to vote for and elect their future president," Karzai said at a news conference.
The Taliban are not fielding candidates and have warned Afghans against voting in the election. A militant spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said insurgents will "try our best to disrupt the election" because the U.S. supports the election process. "Whatever is to the benefit to the Americans, we are against it," Mujahid said.
Mujahid said there would be no attacks on places where there would be civilian casualties, suggesting that polling stations would not be targeted. However, he said militants would disrupt the election, but he refused to say how.
Karzai called on the international community to be impartial in the election, and he appeared to criticize a recent meeting between U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and top challenger and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who has said he would seek to decentralize power out of Kabul and give provincial capitals more authority.
The president said international diplomats had the right to meet with candidates, but he said candidates shouldn't discuss their platforms with foreign representatives in attendance. Karzai said Afghanistan will continue to support the fight against terrorism no matter who wins the presidency. In the country's latest violence, Taliban militants attacked a checkpoint just north of the provincial capital of Helmand late Friday, killing eight police, said Daoud Ahamdi, the governor's spokesman. He said it appeared some of the police had a link with the militants and facilitated the attack. Two police were missing, he said.
In the eastern province of Laghman, a remote control bomb killed the deputy provincial police chief of Kunar province and one civilian Saturday, said Sayed Ahmad Safi, the spokesman for Laghman's governor.