A policeman checks a motorist at a road block on election day in central Kabul April 5, 2014. — Photo by Reuters

Millions of Afghans braved Taliban threats Saturday to vote for a successor to President Hamid Karzai in a landmark election held as US-led forces wind down their long intervention in the country.

Polling stations officially closed at 5:00 pm (1230 GMT), officials said, after a day without major security incidents. But voting was set to continue for some time as voters in line at polling stations would be allowed to cast their ballot, a senior official with the Independent Election Commission said.

Security was a major concern following a string of high-profile attacks in the capital Kabul, most recently a suicide bombing at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday that killed six police officers. The Taliban have rejected the election as a foreign plot, and urged their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces.

Afghanistan's third presidential election brings an end to 13 years of rule by Karzai, who has led the country since the Taliban were ousted in a US-led invasion in 2001. The Nato coalition force is pulling out its last 51,000 combat troops this year, leaving Afghan forces to battle the Taliban insurgency without their help.


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Local media reports that some voting centers in Kabul, Balkh and elsewhere are still full of Afghans who have been waiting to vote since before 5:00 pm (1230 GMT).

Stations officially closed at 5:00 pm but voting was set to continue to allow voters in line to cast their ballot.

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Polling stations officially closed at 5:00 pm (1230 GMT) but voting was set to continue for some time as voters in line at polling stations would be allowed to cast their ballot, a senior official with the Independent Election Commission said.

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At some polling centers women constituted an unprecedented 80 per cent of total voters, says Ghazni governor.

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Polls begin to close in Afghan election: official —AFP

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Take a look inside Pakistan: The Afghan refugee perspective

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Afghan refugee in Quetta: "I want to go back and play a role in the progress of Afghanistan."

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“The people of Afghanistan must answer the enemy's violence by using their vote. By casting your vote you reject fighting and confirm the peace,” Interior Minister Umer Daudzai says on Twitter.

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A roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded two others in the southern city of Qalat as they were returning from a polling station.

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Afghan Sikhs vote in the election 

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In the city of Kandahar, the mood is tense. Vehicles are not allowed to move on the roads and checkpoints have been set up at every intersection. Hamida, a 20-year-old teacher working at a Kandahar polling station, says more than a dozen women turned up in the first two hours of voting and adds that she expects more to come despite the threat of an attack by the Taliban. “We are trying not to think about it,” she says.

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Pakistan’s businessmen have a number of expectations from the incoming Afghan leadership. Kamran Mirza, Chief Executive Pakistan Business Council, hopes that the new government in Afghanistan will be effective at reducing cross-border smuggling.

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An Afghan woman looks for a candidate on a ballot while voting during presidential and provincial elections in Adraskan district, Herat province April 5, 2014. — Photo by Reuters

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Afghans at the polls

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Afghan men search for their candidate on a ballot paper while voting during presidential and provincial elections in Adraskan district, Herat province. — Photo by Reuters

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Afghan voters line up to vote at a local polling station in Ghazni on April 5, 2014. — Photo by AFP

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Who is voting?

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There is genuine competition, in the sense that the winner of the Afghan presidential election is far from clear. Read today's editorial published in the Dawn newspaper here:

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Still catching up on what's happening in the Afghan elections?

Take a look at the presidential contenders believed most likely to emerge victorious in Afghanistan's elections. - Video by Reuters

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Truly amazing

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The interior ministry said two officials were detained for trying to rig the vote, and elsewhere several people were arrested for trying to use fake voter cards.

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Police in the northern province of Faryab said they had arrested a would-be suicide bomber trying to enter a polling station, while in Ghazni, in the southeast, a volley of rockets were fired but landed far from a voting centre.

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Afghan Presidential Candidate Abdullah Abdullah shows his inked finger as he casts his vote at a local polling station in Kabul on April 5, 2014. — Photo by AFP

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An Afghan woman shows her inked finger after casting a vote at a polling station in Jalalabad, east of Kabul. — Photo by AFP

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Four voters have been wounded in an explosion at a polling station in the southeastern province of Logar. "The blast took place close to a polling station which is a school building and wounded four voters, one critically," Abdul Hameed, governor of the province's Mohammad Agha district, told Reuters.

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Afghan shopkeeper Khodadad, 52, says he has brought 12 family members to vote. "It feels good that now people can choose their leader by voting, not by gun and force," he tells AFP. "We are tired of tyrants and war and violence — voting is the best way to choose your future leader."

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With the presidential elections, Afghan refugees living in Pakistan are worried about the instability that might follow the polls and the subsequent withdrawal of Nato forces from their home country. Read more on what the Afghans based in Pakistan have to say about their current conditions and about any possibilities of repatriation:

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“I'm not afraid of Taliban threats, we will die one day anyway. I want my vote to be a slap in the face of the Taliban,” Afghan housewife Laila Neyazi, 48, tells AFP.

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"I cast my vote, I feel happy and proud as a citizen of Afghanistan," Hamid Karzai says after voting in a school near the presidential palace in Kabul.

 "Today is an important day for our future, the future of our country. I urge the Afghan nation to go to the polling station despite the rain, cold weather and enemy threats... and to take the country another step towards success." Karzai has vowed to stay neutral in the election and oversee a free and fair vote, despite allegations of massive fraud in the 2009 poll when he retained power after a long and disputed process. The president, who has ruled since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, says he will live as a private citizen in Afghanistan after leaving the palace, but he is expected to retain extensive political influence.

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Guess how ballot boxes were delivered to one of Afghanistan’s most inaccessible areas!

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"I am here to vote and I am not afraid of any attacks," says Kabul resident Haji Ramazan as he lines up at a polling station in the capital, which was dampened by a cold drizzle after heavy rain overnight. "This is my right and no one can stop me."

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''The election excitement is being felt all over the place,'' says Aimal Jan Ghafoori, who worked at a voter registration centre in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. ''It's really good to see this change. I hope this change helps in changing the fate of our country soon enough.'' He says barely three dozen people showed up to register each day in 2009, when massive vote-rigging marred Karzai's re-election, while as many as 300 lined up daily to beat Tuesday's deadline to register for this year's elections for president and provincial councils.

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With Afghanistan undergoing a historic transition, a number of its citizens reside in Pakistan. Here's what the Afghans living in Peshawar have to say about their living conditions in the host country.

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 A policeman checks a motorist at a road block on election day in central Kabul, April 5, 2014. — Photo by Reuters

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Nazia Azizi, a 40-year-old housewife, was first in line at a school in eastern Kabul.''I have suffered so much from the fighting and I want prosperity and security in Afghanistan. That is why I have come here to cast my vote,'' she says. ''I hope that the votes that we are casting will be counted and that there will be no fraud in this election.''

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Vote offers little to Afghan poor | Little has changed for Daro Khan since the Taliban were toppled and Karzai took up office more than 12 years ago. He says he's disappointed the current government hasn't done more to help and it's not clear whether the next one would either.

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The capital, Kabul, has been sealed off from the rest of the country by rings of roadblocks and checkpoints.

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All there is to know about the Afghan presidential election:

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The Afghan election chief has cast his ballot, launching nationwide elections for a new president and provincial councils that is taking place amid heavy security. Men and women lined up more than an hour before the polls opened, defying fears of violence. Independent Election Commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani urged all Afghans to vote as he marked his ballot live on television. “I call on the people of Afghanistan to prove to the enemies of Afghanistan that nothing can stop them,” he said after he had cast his own vote as a polling station opened in Kabul.

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This combination of photographs by AFP shows Afghan presidential candidates (L/R): Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai attending a debate at Tolo TV station in Kabul on Feb 4, 2014, Abdullah Abdullah attending a Hazara gathering in Kabul on March 7, 2014 and Zalmai Rassoul during a political rally in Bamiyan on April 1, 2014.

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Security has been tightened for the elections. All 400,000 of Afghanistan's police, army and intelligence services have been deployed to ensure security around the country.

Poll security has been a major concern following a string of high-profile attacks in Kabul, most recently a suicide bombing at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday that killed six police officers.

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There has been no word of violence as voting got under way at 7 a.m. local time. Taliban insurgents had launched a spate of attacks in the run-up to the vote, which they brand as a US-backed sham.

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Eight candidates are in the running for the Afghan presidency and the top three contenders include former foreign ministers Zalmai Rassoul and Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Read more about them and others on: 

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Polls open in historic Afghan presidential elections. Voters queued in cool damp weather before the start of the ballot in Kabul, an AFP photographer says, with around 13.5 million people eligible to vote from an estimated total population of 28 million. Polls close at 4:00 pm.

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Comments (10) Closed

Apr 05, 2014 07:37am
All the best to our Afghan brothers, May democracy take root and lead to progress and peace and prosperity...
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Apr 05, 2014 08:00am
Well done and good luck to all Afghansaand shame to Taliban
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Apr 05, 2014 09:50am
a strong democratic regime FREE OF TALIBAN FEAR will be able to reduce eternal pressure on afghan politics and society from our security establishment and global powers, and India's increasing influence- Elections will change the geo-strategic setting of status quo
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Apr 05, 2014 11:43am
Hope things work out for you and you only move forward from here on. You have struggled for too long.
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Apr 05, 2014 12:02pm
Good luck to Afghan brothers. May peace come back to their life and hope Pakistan will stop interfering in Afghan with groups like Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami.
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Apr 05, 2014 12:42pm
The only way - Democracy, both Pakistan and Afghanistan learnt this the hard way. Best of Luck Afghanistan!
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Apr 05, 2014 12:59pm
Why is it on the top of dawn... I thought it was for Afganistan
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Apr 05, 2014 03:11pm
Good luck to Afghan brothers and sisters. Hoping for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.
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Apr 05, 2014 06:23pm
I wish good luck to Afghan Brothers And sisters May this Election prove good for Afghanistan, and the new President do efforts to make good relations with Pakistan.
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Ajaya K Dutt
Apr 05, 2014 07:03pm
@ZULFIQAR HALEPOTO: A strong democratic political system shall make alliances with strong democratic political countries, and would be able to stand upto proxy wars and rulers.
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