KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Pakistani Taliban have stepped up attacks on border posts between the two countries despite starting peace talks with Islamabad earlier this month, a senior Afghan official said Thursday.
Interior Minister Mohammad Umar Daudzai made the comment while responding to a question about security concerns in the eastern half of the country that borders Pakistan amid fears of violence during national elections this weekend. The Taliban have threatened to use "all force necessary" to disrupt the vote.
Electoral officials, meanwhile, expressed confidence that Saturday's vote would go smoothly as workers packed sealed ballot boxes onto trucks and donkeys for delivery to nearly 5,500 polling centers nationwide.
Daudzai told reporters that most of the border checkpoints in several eastern provinces came under attack the night before but security forces were ready and the militants "were repulsed, although some may have sneaked in, which we are dealing with."
The Pakistani government under new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has held direct peace talks with the Taliban. But Daudzai said the Taliban on both sides of the border are trying to keep democracy and stability from flourishing in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have blamed Pakistan for a series of recent high-profile attacks in Kabul, but the Pakistani government has denied any involvement. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said earlier that it would beef up security along the border during Saturday's elections in Afghanistan.
Daudzai and other security officials acknowledged that eastern Afghanistan remained one of the most difficult areas to control but insisted government security forces were ready to protect voters nationwide. He also promised troops would remain neutral amid fears that tribal and other loyalties could create a conflict of interest.
Nearly 200,000 Afghan forces are being deployed to protect voters and polling stations. It will be a key test of their readiness to provide security as international combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of this year.
"We will prove ... through this election to the international community that their generous investment in blood and treasure in the past 13 years has not been wasted," Daudzai said.
Addressing concerns about fraud, President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from a third term, called on Afghans to vote and said he had instructed government employees not to use government resources for or against any candidates.
"I believe that after the campaign period all the candidates will respect the nation's decision and they will accept the legitimate outcome of the election," he said in a televised address.
Much of the violence in recent weeks has centered on Kabul, but attacks also continued elsewhere in the country.
A roadside bomb struck a taxi in the Maywand district of the southern Kandahar province Thursday, killing the driver and a passenger, provincial government spokesman Bawa Khan Minabal said.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.