Afghan writer Reza Khorami
This photograph taken on September 30, 2019, shows a hand of Afghan writer Reza Khorami during an interview with AFP in Kabul, with fingers that were cut off in 2014 by the Tailban. With two fingers missing from his right hand, Afghan writer Reza Khorami struggles to tap out stories on his keyboard. Image Credit: AFP

Kabul: With two fingers missing from his right hand, Afghan writer Reza Khorami struggles to tap out stories on his keyboard.

The Taliban lopped off his forefinger in 2014 because it was covered in indelible ink showing Khorami had voted. The tip of the middle finger was also splashed with the purple dye, so was also amputated.

The crude punishment, part of the Taliban's war on Afghan democracy, did not deter a defiant Khorami from voting in Saturday's first round of the presidential election, which pitted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani against his top rival, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

They can cut our fingers, but they cannot kill our morale

- Reza Khorami

"I voted again in 2019 just to show that I have not surrendered to terrorism," Khorami told AFP this week in Kabul, where he writes fiction.

"They can cut our fingers, but they cannot kill our morale."

Khorami said he wanted the world to know what the radical Islamists did to him and possibly thousands of others like him.

Since Saturday's vote, several images have circulated online of voters proudly holding up a purple-stained finger on one hand alongside a scarred digit on the other, showing they braved the polls despite previous Taliban punishment.

Afghan voters must dip a finger in ink - which can take a week to wash off - as a measure to stop people voting more than once.

But the obvious mark makes people vulnerable to reprisals from the Taliban, who repeatedly warned voters to stay away from the polls, and turnout appears headed to record lows this year as millions of Afghans abstained.

Woke up in a desert 

Khorami, 25, said he had voted for Ghani in 2014 in Ghazni province, and was headed to take a university exam in Kabul when the Taliban stopped him.

"They took me to an undisclosed location, I spent the night there with two other people I did not know," he recalled.

"The next day, they took us to a mosque. An old man was sat there and he had a knife and some basic medications. They said: 'We won't kill you, but will cut off your finger as a lesson for other people who participated in the election'."

An emotional Khorami, recounting the horrors of what came next, said his fingers were then amputated without any anaesthesia.

"I fainted. When I woke up, I found myself in a desert," he said, describing how the trauma of the assault still haunts him daily.

Five years on, Taliban operatives called Khorami ahead of the polls, threatening to kill him if he voted again.

"I shared this issue with the media so the world should understand our challenges and know how people are fighting for freedom and becoming victims in such a difficult situation," he said.

While Saturday's election was marred by hundreds of small-scale Taliban attacks at polling stations, the insurgents were unable to steal the headlines with any significant bloody assault.

Preliminary results are due October 19. If no candidate wins a majority, voting will go to a second round.