Afghans flocked to polling stations nationwide on Saturday, defying a threat of violence by the Taliban to cast ballots in what promises to be the nation's first democratic transfer of power. The turnout was so high that some polling centers ran out of ballots.
According to AP, men in traditional tunics and loose trousers and women clad in all-encompassing burqas waited in segregated lines at polls under tight security. At a Kandahar hospital-turned-polling station, the men's line stretched from the building, through the courtyard and out into the street. In Helmand province, women pushed, shoved and argued as they pressed forward in a long line.
The excitement over choosing a new leader for the first time appeared to overwhelm the fear of bloodshed in many areas, as Afghans embarked on a major transition nearly 13 years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the rule of the Taliban.
The Taliban have rejected the election as a foreign plot and urged their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces, but only one incident was reported in the first few hours of voting.
A blast wounded two people at a school being used as a polling station in Logar province, south of Kabul, provincial spokesman Din Mohammad Darwish told AFP.
In Kabul, hit by a series of deadly attacks during the election campaign, hundreds of people lined up in the open air to vote despite the insurgents' promise of violence.
"I'm not afraid of Taliban threats, we will die one day anyway. I want my vote to be a slap in the face of the Taliban," housewife Laila Neyazi, 48, told AFP.
Poll security was a major concern following the attacks in Kabul, most recently a suicide bombing on Wednesday that killed six police officers.
Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said all 400,000 of Afghanistan's police, army and intelligence services were being deployed to ensure security around the country.
Afghans have taken over responsibility for security from US-led forces and this year the last of the NATO coalition's 51,000 combat troops will pull out, leaving local forces to battle the resilient Taliban insurgency without their help.
The vote is the first for Afghans in which the outcome is uncertain. Voters are choosing from a field of eight presidential candidates, as well as selecting provincial council members. With three front-runners in the presidential race, a runoff is widely expected since none is likely to get the majority needed for an outright victory.