Hamid Karzai's battle for reelection on Thursday is facing a significant hurdle: threats by the Taliban to mutilate anyone who shows up at the polls. Insurgents are strongest in Pashtun regions, normally a Karzai stronghold, and in one town a group of Taliban fighters told citizens anyone who votes will have his finger chopped off. "We can't vote. Everybody knows it," one farmer told Dexter Filkins of the New York Times.
Five years ago the Taliban largely let the election proceed, but this time intimidation has been so considerable that many Afghans have failed to register to vote. And even for the few voters willing to risk mutilation, many would have to walk miles up bomb-strewn unpaved roads to reach the ballot box. In volatile Helmand province, officials have not even bothered to set up polling places. "It's too insecure," lamented one Marine commander.