The Taliban, who already have unleashed a string of bombings, have in recent days issued repeated warnings they intend to attack polling centres and have told voters to stay away.

Afghan policemen keep watch as other carry election material to polling stations which are not accessible by road, in Shutul, Panjshir province, Afghanistan September 27, 2019.
Afghan policemen keep watch as other carry election material to polling stations which are not accessible by road, in Shutul, Panjshir province, Afghanistan September 27, 2019. (Reuters)

Afghans head to the polls amid tight security Saturday to vote for their next president, following a bloody, two-month election campaign that has been marred by repeated attacks across Afghanistan.

The Taliban, who already have unleashed a string of bombings, have in recent days issued repeated warnings they intend to attack polling centres and have told voters to stay away.

Wary authorities have placed an uneasy Kabul under partial lockdown, banning trucks from entering the city in an effort to stop would-be suicide bombers attacking the electoral process.

The capital's traffic, often gridlocked, has dropped to a trickle as schools and offices close for the day and as many people choose to stay off the roads.

Some 9.6 million Afghans are registered to vote, but many have lost any hope that after 18 years of war any leader can unify the fractious country and improve basic living conditions, boost the stagnating economy or bolster security.

Several of the 18 original contenders have dropped out and the poll is considered a two-horse race between current President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the country's chief executive.

Both claimed victory in the 2014 election -- a vote so tainted by fraud and violence that it led to a constitutional crisis and forced then-US president Barack Obama to push for a compromise that saw Abdullah awarded the subordinate role.

The US embassy in Kabul has said it is "disturbed by so many complaints about security, lack of an equal playing field and fraud" and many Afghans say they have no intention of voting, citing fraud and security fears.

Saturday's poll was initially slated to take place in April, but was twice delayed because election workers were ill prepared, and the US was leading a push to forge a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban.

That deal has been scuppered for now after US President Donald Trump pulled out.

In mid-2018 Washington and Taliban representatives discreetly opened talks in Doha focused on slashing the US military footprint in Afghanistan.

In return the US demanded the Taliban prevent the country from being used as a safe haven for militant groups including Al-Qaeda.

Talks focused on a ceasefire and the opening of Taliban negotiations with the Kabul government.

But on September 7, 2019  Donald Trump abruptly called off the talks after a US soldier was among 12 people killed in an attack in Kabul.

Source: AFP