KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai on Saturday approved the second of two elections laws, setting the stage for a presidential vote to be held next year. But the deaths of at least 14 people in bombings offered a bloody reminder of the obstacles Afghanistan faces as the country prepares for what will be its first peaceful transition of power as the United States pulls back.
The United States and its allies, who pay the vast majority of Afghanistan's bills, have made it clear that they expect the presidential election to be held next year, and would prefer that it take place on time. The vote is scheduled for April 5, and diplomats have said Afghanistan must hold an "acceptable" election -- that is, a vote considered legitimate enough to avoid a political crisis -- if it expects to see billions of dollars in aid pledges materialize in the coming years.
Until last week, when Parliament passed the two laws needed to govern the election and the commissions that are to run the vote, there were growing concerns about whether the election would be held on schedule, if at all.
But Mr. Karzai last week signed the law governing the election commissions, the more contentious of the two laws, and on Saturday he signed the one outlining how the vote would be held, according to a statement from the presidential palace.
If the election goes ahead and a new president replaces Mr. Karzai, who has served his constitutional limit of two terms, it would be the first time that Afghanistan has had a peaceful transfer of power. Its previous governments were overthrown in coups, like the one that toppled the monarchy in 1973.
Yet, even as Afghanistan's political elite prepared for the election, the Taliban remained a potent force, especially in the insurgents' traditional strongholds in the southern and eastern parts of the country.
The power of the Taliban to disrupt, and to kill, was on display over the weekend in the southern province of Helmand, where American Marines and British soldiers had spent much of the past few years trying to root out the insurgents.
The foreign troops are ceding the fight to the Afghan Army and police. Both Afghan forces remain very much works in progress, and the Taliban appear to be reasserting themselves in areas that the American-led coalition never cleared fully.
Chief among those areas is the district of Sangin, where five Afghan intelligence agents and a police officer were killed after their vehicle struck a hidden bomb late Friday, Afghan officials said.
There were three other bombings on Friday afternoon and evening in Helmand, and six civilians and two police officers were killed in the attacks, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial government.
One of the bombings killed at least three civilians in Marja, the site of a large and widely publicized offensive by American, Afghan and British forces in 2010. In the years since, the former Taliban stronghold has grown markedly more secure.
But American commanders said they believed that the Taliban wanted to re-establish themselves in Marja, seeing it as a chance to score a military and propaganda victory by showing that they could take on the Afghan security forces.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Jawad Sukhanyar from Kabul.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.