HERAT/KABUL: Taliban fighters attacked Afghan bases in the western province of Farah, killing more than 30 police, officials said on Friday, as the insurgents stepped up their offensive in a region with vital opium smuggling routes into neighbouring Iran.

Farid Bakhtawar, head of the Farah provincial council, said fighters had stormed a police base overnight in Balabuluk, a district that has been under heavy pressure for months, killing at least 23 and wounding three.

In a separate attack in Farah city, Taliban fighters killed 11 police and seized a large quantity of weapons and equipment, he said.

The latest violence underlines the extent of the pressure faced by the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, already heavily criticised for a spate of suicide bombings in the capital, Kabul.Farah, a remote and sparsely populated province between Iran to the west and the Taliban heartland of Helmand province in the south, has been a key battleground for the insurgents for months, with heavy fighting in Balabuluk district.

The region covers major smuggling routes into Iran from Helmand, source of much of Afghanistan’s opium crop.

Afghan special forces, backed by air support, have been heavily involved in the fighting but have been unable to prevent repeated attacks by the insurgents.

Farah’s governor resigned in January, claiming political interference and corruption, and residents have complained bitterly about security in the province.

Deadline for voter registration extended amid violence

A deadline for Afghans to register to vote in the October 20 legislative elections has been extended, officials said on Friday, as figures show hundreds of civilians have already been killed or wounded in poll-related violence.

Enrolment for the long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections began on April 14 and was originally scheduled to finish in mid-June.

By Thursday, just over 1.5 million adults had signed up to vote, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said.

The registration is a fraction of the 14 million the country had hoped to register during the two-month process.

“The election commission of Afghanistan has extended the voting registration process for one month,” the IEC said in a statement, without explaining the reason for the decision.

There are fears that a low turnout could erode the credibility of the elections, which are seen as a test run for next year’s presidential poll.

The vote was supposed to be held in 2015 but has been repeatedly pushed back due to security fears and logistical issues within the fragile unity government.

The decision came as UN figures showed 86 civilians had been killed and 185 wounded in 23 election-related security incidents since registration began.

Most of the casualties happened on April 22 when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a voter registration centre in Kabul, killing 60 and wounding 138, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.

The majority of the casualties were women and children, the report said. It added that 26 civilians also had been abducted.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2018

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