Afghans will return to the polls for parliamentary elections on Saturday, hoping to bring change to a corrupt government that has lost nearly half the country to the Taliban.
In the eight years since Afghanistan last held parliamentary elections, a resurgent Taliban have carried out near-daily attacks on security forces, seizing large swathes of the countryside and threatening major cities. An even more radical Islamic State affiliate has launched a wave of bombings targeting the country's Shiite minority, killing hundreds. Both groups have threatened to attack anyone taking part in the vote.
In areas where the government still provides relative security, Afghans face a different array of challenges. Widespread corruption forces people to pay bribes for shabby public services, and increasingly influential ultraconservative clerics blame the country's many ills on years of Western influence, threatening to roll back the limited gains made by women and civil society since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Many of those Afghans brave enough to defy the death threats hope to vote in a new generation of younger and better-educated leaders. But they fear that former warlords and the corrupt political elite will cling to power by lavishing entertainment and cash handouts on impoverished voters.
Afghanistan is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International, which last year called efforts by President Ashraf Ghani's government to stem runaway corruption "insufficient." Poor governance has also confounded Washington's efforts to find a peaceful exit from the 17-year war — the longest in American history — which has cost the United States more than 2,400 lives and over $900 billion.