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Karzai Opponent Alleges 'Widespread' Fraud in Afghan Elections

Afghanistan's voters went to the polls on Aug. 20, 2009, for the nation's second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Two months later, Afghanistan's election commission ordered a runoff election for Nov. 7 after a fraud investigation invalidated nearly a million of President Hamid Karzai's votes.

"Instead of rushing, it is better to take time and let the process work while the complaints are thoroughly investigated and verified," said Ahmad Nader Nadery, chairman of the elections foundation. "The issues need to be cleaned up in order to make sure the election is acceptable."

Grant Kippen, a Canadian elections expert who heads the Electoral Complaints Commission, said that his group has received more than 160 complaints of election-day irregularities and that it will take at least several weeks to investigate them. He said the group requires detailed evidence and testimony, and will not accept vague complaints of pressure or fraud.

"We know everyone wants results quickly, but if you have a huge volume of material, we have a responsibility to investigate it properly," Kippen said. "People just have to be patient."

Problems on election day seemed to be especially numerous in the volatile south, the heartland of Karzai's ethnic Pashtun group but also the stronghold of Taliban insurgents who sought to undermine the election with violence. Abdullah's support is based in the more peaceful north, which is dominated by Tajiks and other ethnic groups.

Abdullah described specific complaints of polling stations in the south, where as little as 10 percent of voters dared come out; he said official returns were inflated to show that up to 40 percent of registered voters had cast ballots, "with all results in favor of the incumbent." He also described cases in which local former militia bosses used their homes as polling stations or bullied voters to support Karzai.

But there were also reports of irregularities in northern cities, according to officials there.

Holbrooke, who visited military facilities in four areas of the country over the weekend, heard from NATO and Afghan commanders that more military resources need to be focused on regions outside the south, where there are more than 40,000 NATO troops, including 23,000 Americans.

In the western region, however, there are 5,400 NATO troops for 3.6 million people. The number of roadside bombs in the west has nearly tripled in the past year, and the number of Afghan border guards is not sufficient to control the long, porous border with Iran. Afghan military officials also said they need more combat battalions in that region to fight the Taliban.

In the eastern region, which borders the Pakistani tribal areas that are a haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, U.S. Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said the independent Taliban network run by the Haqqani faction is expanding its territory. He called that group "the central threat" to eastern Afghanistan, and said it includes Uzbeks and other foreign fighters.

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