There's an eerie sense of calm to Kabul ahead of Saturday's elections, as government security forces place the city under lock down in an attempt to neutralize any Taliban attacks before they happen. The first round of the presidential elections, back in April, were surprisingly peaceful — at least within the Kabul security bubble —but the Taliban have publicly vowed to disrupt Saturday's runoff, warning voters to stay away from polling stations.
Rumors are swirling around the capital of Taliban assault teams already in place and armed with heavy weapons and magnetic bombs, and in response army, police and intelligence service checkpoints have sprung up on every intersection in Kabul, choking the city's already dense traffic into a packed stream of honking horns and eye-watering exhaust fumes. The Taliban threat is very real: only last week, the frontrunner, presidential candidate Dr Abdullah Abdullah narrowly survived a coordinated suicide bomb attack which killed three of his staff and a number of bystanders, reducing his armored car to a shrapnel-peppered hunk of charred steel.
Since then, Abdullah's electioneering has been restricted to his fortified Kabul compound, with streams of tribal elders and representatives of the country's interest groups different filing into his media center throughout the day to listen to near-identical speeches and announce their support for his presidential bid.
VICE News was granted a brief audience with Abdullah, in which he brushed aside the suggestion that the sudden jihadist attacks on Iraq heralded a glimpse of Afghanistan's future after ISAF troops pull out.