Afghanistan will hold national elections on Saturday for the 249 seats in the nation's lower house of Parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. The elections are expected to be a major test for the country's frail national infrastructure, for its perilously corrupt political class, and for the international mission to bring stability and security to a country that has been at war for 30 years. Here's what to know.

  • What's at Stake for Afghanistan  The Associated Press explains, "This is the first election since last year's fraud-marred presidential vote and is considered a test of whether the government has instituted promised reforms and rooted out corrupt officials. The election will also be an indicator of the strength of the insurgency as NATO and Afghan forces work to secure polling stations in volatile areas amid Taliban threats."
  • It Will Be Violent  PBS's Joshua Foust warns, "Last year, during Afghanistan’s presidential elections, the Taliban waited a long while to issue any kind of edict or ruling against the election. This year, they’ve been explicit: do not even bother. They’ve already murdered candidates, and have been explicit that they will attack voting stations. The government and ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) will have a role to play as well. They haven’t exactly acquitted themselves lately, and have killed several people during the recent Quran burning protests. Last year, voters in Nuristan held a protest because they felt they didn’t have enough voting cards. During the chaos that ensued, the Afghan police killed two people. Afghan officials are pinky-swearing they will be able to provide security, but no one is under any illusions that this will be a bloodless election. Yesterday, the UN evacuated a third of its staff due to safety concerns."
  • No Democracy Without Security   The New York Times' Alissa Rubin writes, "Turnout — and the legitimacy of the second election in a year — hangs in the balance as voters fear waning security and brace for fraud. ... Many election districts remain insecure, and some people worry that turnout in such places may end up being so low that it could raise questions about the legitimacy of the elections. 'Is an election with 5 percent turnout a valid election?' asked a Western diplomat in Kabul. This August there were double the number of attacks in Afghanistan as in August 2009, and the Taliban have encroached into northern Afghanistan, while remaining entrenched in many areas of the south and east. The Taliban warned Afghans this week to stay away from the polls."
  • Difficult Moment for Afghan Women  Afghan law requires that one quarter of Parliamentary seats be reserved for women. GlobalPost's Jean MacKenzie writes, "The burden falls most heavily on women, many of whom lack the financial and political resources of their male counterparts. ... In many districts outside the main cities, women have not been able to campaign at all. In Herat province, 10 campaign workers for prominent female lawmaker Fawzia Gailani were kidnapped; five were released, but the others were killed." A female politician tells MacKenzie, "Five years ago things were different," but now the situation for women who would enter politics is much more difficult.
  • Elections Really Don't Matter That Much  Foreign Policy's Alexander Lobov writes, "The real question is, what does this mean for reality on the ground? The answer is: not much. While corruption, particularly in the electoral process, could very well be damaging to Afghanistan's democratic future, for now it is something that both the Afghan people and the international community have to live with. Also, while security is of course paramount to the success of any public ballot, there is no indicator that insurgent groups are capable of derailing the entire process. As long as attacks and security fears are limited, although regrettable, they will not cause the electoral project to be abandoned, even if they mean that voter turnout will also be limited."