Taliban leaders warned Afghans on Monday about participating in presidential elections and ordered fighters to “use all force” possible to disrupt polling. The April 5 vote, which will usher in a successor to President Hamid Karzai, is seen as key to Afghanistan’s stability ahead of the final withdrawal of international troops later this year.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to media that the group had also instructed clerics across the country to spread the word that the election is "an American conspiracy."
The election is seen as a major test of stability in the country as violence increases, and as President Karzai becomes increasingly vocal about his disdain for the U.S., refusing to sign a security agreement that would allow some U.S. forces to stay beyond their scheduled withdrawal in late December.
Previous elections have been fraught with allegations of widespread fraud and some surveys have shown a deep mistrust among most Afghans toward the polling and candidates. Karzai is not in the race since he cannot run for a third term.
Monday's Taliban statement told Afghans they should "reject completely" the election and not put themselves in danger by going to the polls. Mujahid did not specify what kind of attacks the Taliban planned to carry out, but in the 2009 presidential election, armed Taliban members assaulted and killed election workers, targeted candidates and also attacked voters, in some cases cutting people's fingers off.
"We have given orders to all our mujahedeen to use all force at their disposal to disrupt these upcoming sham election to target all its workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices," the statement said.
The group also warned the government against using public buildings, such as mosques and schools, for polling.
The Taliban statement followed several election-related attacks since the start of the country’s election season.
Last month, a campaign worker of presidential front-runner Abdullah Abdullah was shot and killed in Afghanistan's western Herat province. Also in Herat, a suicide bomber recently attacked Ismail Khan, who is running as first vice-president to presidential candidate and powerful warlord Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf.
And in northern Kunduz province, a member of the Independent Election Commission was shot and killed. The Taliban has taken responsibility for all election campaign-related attacks, which occurred over the past month.
The April vote will be held against the background of a stagnant economy and concerns over Afghanistan's long-term security.
NATO is due to withdraw its troops by the end of the year, but a small contingent of U.S. troops may remain behind to help with training, logistics, medical and air support if the next government signs a deal to let them stay.
Karzai has so far refused to sign the deal, putting billions of dollars in aid to Afghan security forces at risk and raising doubts over the long-term ability of the military to coordinate the fight against the Taliban.
Al Jazeera and wire services