Afghanistan's electoral authorities say the country will hold its next presidential election on April 20, 2019, six months after parliamentary polls.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) made the announcement on August 1, as Afghanistan's Western-backed government has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.
Security, funding, and the short time frame between the elections would present the biggest challenges to the polls, IEC spokesman Hafeezullah Hashemi said during a televised news conference.
Nearly 14 percent, or 56 of the war-torn country's more than 400 districts, are under Taliban control or influence, according to a report published on July 31 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the IEC's announcement, calling it "an important moment for democracy in Afghanistan."
In a statement, Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan and the head of UNAMA, also urged "all parties to perform their respective roles in order to ensure necessary timelines and conditions are met for credible presidential elections."
Confirmation of the presidential election date comes amid preparations for long-delayed parliamentary and district-council polls scheduled for October 20 this year.
Nearly 9 million people have registered to vote, including more than 3 million women, according to the IEC. But the run-up to the elections has been marred by technical and organizational problems as well as accusations of fraud and abuse.
In its statement, UNAMA said it expected a “thorough verification process of registered voters in order for any irregularities to be addressed.”
Presidential candidates will not be registered until November, but maneuvering among potential contenders and their allies has already kicked off.
President Ashraf Ghani is expected to run for a second five-year term, while one of his main backers, ethnic Uzbek Vice President Abdul Rasheed Dostum, has formed an alliance with powerful leaders.
These include former Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor, a leading figure in the largely ethnic Tajik Jamiat-e Islami party, and ethnic Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqeq.
The last presidential election, in 2014, produced no clear winner after accusations of massive electoral fraud.
Months after the vote, Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah agreed to form a national-unity government in which Ghani took the presidency and Abdullah took the specially created post of chief executive.
Parliamentary elections, initially scheduled to be held in 2015, were postponed in the aftermath of the contested presidential poll.