The United Nations has evacuated about a third of its permanent international workforce from Afghanistan amid fears that this weekend's parliamentary elections will be marred by violence and fraud.
The exodus of roughly 300 staff deemed non-essential to preparations for Saturday's poll is ongoing, with most staff expected to remain out of the country for a week.
Those who stay behind will be under draconian security restrictions, including bans on movement around Kabul.
The decision highlights the risks to international organisations involved in the election, nearly all of whom have scaled back their efforts to monitor voting compared with their presence during the 2009 presidential election, which was wrecked by electoral fraud.
Safety concerns are especially acute at the UN after five staff were killed in an attacked after the first round of voting in last year's election.
“It would be naive not to take these precautions as we are a target,” said Staffan de Mistura, head of the Afghan UN mission. “We are going to be particularly careful as the Taliban have announced they will attack anyone involved in this election and we are very much involved.”
Mistura said the organisation expected an increase in violence surrounding the election but denied that the departure of 300 staff constituted an evacuation.
Already this has been Afghanistan's most violent election campaign with incidents including various attacks on politicians, such as the five volunteers campaigning for a female candidate in Herat province who were murdered by the Taliban. GNS
Karzai tries to allay Pak fears
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has dismissed reports of India using Afghan territory to destabilise Balochistan, saying that his country would not allow its territory to be used against Pakistan, as that would be against its own interest.
Addressing a joint press conference with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Karzai denied allegations that India had been involved in Balochistan insurgency using Afghan territory, and asked Pakistan to hand over any evidence in this regard. ANI