Smooth Afghan election raises questions about Taliban’s strength

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KABUL-

A bigger-than-expected turnout in Afghanistan’s presidential election and the Taliban’s failure to significantly disrupt the vote has raised questions about the capacity of the insurgents to tip the country back into chaos as foreign troops head home.

The Taliban claimed that they staged more than 1,000 attacks and killed dozens during Saturday’s election, which they have branded a U.S.-backed deception of the Afghan people, though security officials said it was a gross exaggeration.

There were dozens of minor roadside bombs, and attacks on polling stations, police and voters during the day. But the overall level of violence was much lower than the Taliban had threatened to unleash on the country.

And, despite the dangers they faced at polling stations, nearly 60 percent of the 12 million people eligible to vote turned out, a measure of the determination for a say in their country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power, as President Hamid Karzai prepares to stand down after 12 years in power.

“This is how people vote to say death to the Taliban,” said one Afghan on Twitter, posting a photograph that showed his friends holding up one finger – stained with ink to show they had voted – in a gesture of defiance.

There was a palpable sense in Kabul, the capital, on Sunday that perhaps greater stability is within reach after 13 years of strife since the ouster of the Taliban’s hardline Islamist regime in late 2001. The insurgency has claimed the lives of at least 16,000 Afghans civilians and thousands more security forces.

“It was my dream come true,” said Shukria Barakzai, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament. “That was a fantastic slap on the face of the enemy of Afghanistan, a big punch in the face of those who believe Afghanistan is not ready for democracy.”