KABUL: Afghan police and soldiers searched almost every car on the roads of Kabul and other cities Friday in an attempt to thwart Taleban suicide attackers on the eve of presidential elections.
The insurgents have threatened to target polling stations on Saturday when voters will choose between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani.
The second-round vote on Saturday comes as US-led NATO troops withdraw after more than a decade of fighting the Taleban, who were ousted from power in 2001.
Afghan officials are desperate to repeat the success of the first-round vote in April, when the insurgents failed to launch a single high-profile attack as long lines of voters turned up across the country to cast their ballots.
Afghans head to the polls on Saturday for the second time in 10 weeks to elect a president who will take office as most foreign forces prepare to leave after nearly 13 years of inconclusive war. None of the eight candidates who contested the first round of the election on April 5 won more than 50 percent of the vote meaning the top two contenders have to face off on Saturday.
The two men aiming to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from a third term, are a former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, and an ex-World Bank economist and former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani.
The winner will inherit an unfinished war and an economy in the doldrums.
The Taleban are still strong and Afghanistan’s foreign-trained army has never put to rest questions about its effectiveness, especially in the absence of foreign troops, the bulk of whom will leave by the end of the year.
Abdullah, a former leader in the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance, won 45 percent of the vote in April while Ghani got 31.6 percent.
But Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, stands to gain more of the Pashtun vote that was splintered between candidates in the first round. Abdullah is part Pashtun but more closely identified with the ethnic Tajik minority.
Below is a timeline of key events and brief biographies of the contenders.
May 22 : Run-off campaign began
June 11: Campaign ended
June 14: Election day
July 2: Preliminary results announced
July 16: Complaints body submits final report
July 22: Final results announced