Pakistan will increase security along its border with Afghanistan, the foreign ministry announced Thursday, as its neighbor heads into presidential elections this weekend that the Taliban have vowed to disrupt.
Deadly violence has surged in Afghanistan in the run-up to the election, the first round of which begins Saturday. Afghan officials have hinted at Pakistani involvement in recent attacks, a suggestion vehemently denied by Islamabad.
“Pakistan will beef up security along the border during the elections,” Tasnim Aslam, spokeswoman of Pakistan’s foreign ministry, told reporters Thursday. “Beefing up security means there will be more vigilance. At this stage I can’t say what measures would be taken, but we would like to make sure that there are no unauthorized crossings.”
The vote will be Afghanistan’s first-ever democratic transfer of power, as Hamid Karzai steps down after serving the maximum two terms in office. It comes after a U.S.-led military campaign that has radically changed the country, but failed to defeat the Taliban.
Militant attacks and electoral fraud are the main threats to the vote. A repeat of the violence and massive cheating that marred Karzai’s re-election in 2009 would undermine claims that a decade of coalition fighting and billions of dollars of aid have helped establish a functioning state.
Karzai has sustained complex relations with Islamabad, often accusing it of failing to play a role in bringing peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan is seen as crucial to securing peace in the country as it was a key backer of the hardline 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul, and is believed still to shelter some of the movement’s leaders.
The first round of the election comes as the final 53,000 NATO combat troops head home this year, leaving Afghan forces to fight the fierce insurgency that erupted after the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.
Aslam said Pakistan was looking forward to a stronger Afghanistan after the elections. “We congratulate the people and government of Afghanistan on this milestone,” she said. “This is an historic moment for the people of Afghanistan in their democratic journey. We hope the Afghan nation will emerge stronger and more unified as a result of the forthcoming elections.”
She said she hoped Afghans would be able to overcome security challenges to vote. “We also hope that despite the threats by extremists groups, voters will cast their votes in record numbers,” she added.