In Afghanistan, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Kabul voting center that killed at least 60 people, including 22 women and eight children. More than 130 people were wounded, and Afghan police say many of the victims were waiting in line outside the center attempting to receive national identity cards in order to vote. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October, but could be derailed by continued violence, low voter registration, and a lack of confidence in the electoral process.

Mohammed Khan, left, sells tea to shopkeepers as they open their storefronts on Chicken Street in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 13, 2018.
Mohammed Khan, left, sells tea to shopkeepers as they open their storefronts on Chicken Street in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 13, 2018.

Scott Worden is USIP’s director of Afghanistan and Central Asia Programs. He’s a former senior official with Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and was a commissioner on Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission during the 2009 presidential election. Worden examines the impact of this latest attack for Afghanistan’s electoral process.

What does this latest attack mean for the fate of the October election?

This horrific attack on a voter registration center, combined with smaller attacks we’ve seen on the registration process in other parts of Afghanistan, will significantly reduce turnout unless the security vulnerabilities are addressed.

Voter registration was already lower than expected in the first phase of the process that focuses on provincial capitals. Security risks will be even greater when the elections process moves to district centers and rural areas over the next six weeks.

Not all people who register will actually vote. If the threat of violence reduces registration totals below the seven million people who voted in the last election it raises big questions about the legitimacy of the process. If too few people participate in an election the public won’t feel legitimately represented by the new government.

Do you think the Afghan government should delay the elections?

In Afghanistan there’s a tradeoff between time, quality, and participation in elections. In this case, election authorities would be wise to allow more time to coordinate security, voter outreach, and registration.

Afghans are not only registering for parliamentary elections scheduled for October of this year, but also presidential elections that are required by the constitution in April of next year. The presidential elections are much more important and it’s critical for the country’s future that they are perceived as credible. Therefore, the Independent Election Commission should take the time to get voter registration right even if it causes parliamentary elections to be further delayed.

Is it surprising that ISIS, rather than the Taliban, claimed responsiblity for this attack?

No, this bombing took place in an area that has a large population of the Hazara ethnic group, which are Shia Muslims. ISIS has committed several other massacres of Hazaras over the past two years and this fits a pattern of sectarian atrocities by ISIS.

ISIS is intent on using violence to break open ethnic fractures that divide Afghan society. Their target, a voter registration center, underscores the link between ethnic violence and the political process. This attack will likely further increase ethnic tensions around the elections. In response, the election process must be seen as transparent and fair.

Related Publications

What Can the Taliban Learn From Past Afghan Conquests and Collapses?

What Can the Taliban Learn From Past Afghan Conquests and Collapses?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

The Taliban’s lightning conquest of Afghanistan caught many people by surprise, perhaps including the Taliban themselves. However, it is not the country’s first episode of an unexpectedly quick military victory and consequent rapid change in regime. Historical examples may provide relevant lessons for the victorious Taliban as they begin to govern the country, including pitfalls to be avoided in their own and the nation’s interest.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience

Five Questions on the Taliban’s Caretaker Government

Five Questions on the Taliban’s Caretaker Government

Thursday, September 9, 2021

By: Andrew Watkins

As part of the Taliban’s bid to re-establish the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the militant group announced the line up for its caretaker government on Tuesday. Despite several leading Taliban figures saying the movement would govern in a more moderate and inclusive fashion, the acting appointments made this week were mostly old guard members who played similar roles when the group ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. USIP’s Andrew Watkins discusses who the key players are, what it signals about the Taliban’s commitment to inclusivity, the key challenges the government will face and how the West and regional countries should engage.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

After Taliban Takeover, Can Afghanistan’s Economy Survive?

After Taliban Takeover, Can Afghanistan’s Economy Survive?

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

The Taliban’s unexpectedly rapid and complete victory over the now defunct Islamic Republic of Afghanistan brings with it yet another shock to the long-suffering Afghan people and the country’s very weak economy. Already plagued by insecurity, COVID, corruption, government over-centralization and mismanagement, declining revenues and drought, the Afghan economy will now face a host of challenges in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover and the international community cracking down on aid and assistance. As a new Afghan government takes shape, the actions of the Taliban and the response of the international community could greatly exacerbate or modestly ameliorate the current economic and humanitarian crises.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment

View All Publications