Abdullah bats for anti- fraud measures

KABUL: Abdullah, a former foreign minister who will be facing off against Karzai after a fraud investigation cut the Afghan president’s share of votes to below the 50% needed for outright victory, said measures would have to be taken to ensure a more credible vote.

Speaking at his house in Kabul, he said: “Some people lost their fingers in the last round of elections [so] this is a serious issue, and in order to prepare the ground for transparency and fairness we have certain recommendations as well as conditions that ... we will come up with soon.”

Abdullah’s comments came as the UN said 200 out of 380 district election officials from the government-appointed Independent Election Commission had been sacked following evidence of vote-rigging.

“More than half of the district field co-ordinators are being replaced to prevent any attempted fraud or because there have been complaints made against them by candidates and observers,” said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN mission in Afghanistan, according to Reuters. Karzai agreed yesterday to a runoff vote following intense international pressure in the wake of a UN-backed investigation that stripped him of almost 1 million votes he won in August.

Abdullah said that while

all preparations were being made to ensure the runoff, scheduled for 7 November, goes ahead, the logistics may prove impossible. The cutting off of large parts of the mountainous north of the country by heavy snow is just one potential problem confronting a second round of voting.

Other issues include whether or not polling stations would open in areas so insecure that it is impossible to monitor fraud.

Abdullah said no voters should be disenfranchised because of insecurity, but warned that there were “certain sad realities” that could make it impossible to stop the Taliban from intimidating voters.

“How to overcome this is for our security institutions and the international forces,” he said. British commanders are among those bracing themselves for a resurgence of Taliban attacks in the run-up to the second round.

Britain sent 700 extra troops in the summer to beef up

security in Helmand. Many were engaged in Panther’s Claw, an operation designed to clear a populated and strategic area in which 23 British troops were killed.

British officials estimate that in Babaji, which witnessed the fiercest fighting, just 150 people voted in the first round on 20 August out of a population of 55,000. In the nearby district of Nad Ali with a population of an estimated 60,000 people, 600 voted. In Kajaki 300 voted out of 55,000. Because of the difficulties of ensuring security and preventing fraud, many western diplomats hope a runoff can be avoided if Karzai and Abdullah can strike a deal. But Karzai has publicly said he is not interested in coalition government, and yesterday Abdullah said he was “not under any pressure from any sides” to come to an arrangement with the president.