It appears that the Taliban has conducted a series of calibrated attacks aimed at using the minimum amount of violence to reduce voting as much as possible. Reports from Afghan news sources indicate that Taliban forces fired rockets at a number of polling stations across the country without generating many casualties. Pajhwok News reports that 10 of 18 districts in Ghazni Province were “disenfranchised” because the Taliban closed roads, although that statement is probably exaggerated. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that the Taliban was unable to conduct a large number of mass-casualty attacks. The other is that it chose not to do so. The latter is more likely. The Taliban has always faced a challenge in attempting to undermine the elections. Its cultural sensitivity leads it to avoid killing civilians whenever possible, but disrupting elections requires attacking targets with large numbers of civilians. The violence today suggests an attempt to square the circle. Taliban forces fired rockets at polling places and into cities early in the morning when few people were around to be injured. They appear to have preferred to close roads rather than to attack polling sites or populated areas. It is important to recognize such Taliban activity for what it is: carefully calibrated use of force to induce terror among the population while minimizing civilian casualties. In the end, it appears that many Afghans, including many Pashtuns, have voted despite the threats. But that in itself is not necessarily a defeat for the Taliban. Disrupting the vote was a part of their strategy. Discrediting the result will be another. It is not yet clear to what extent the violence and rumor of violence will have contributed to delegitimizing the result.
– Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.