Warlords Frontrunners Afghan Vote Counting

Published October 04, 2005

| Associated Press

Powerful warlords, a former Taliban (search) commander and women's activists were among the frontrunners as vote counting drew to a close Tuesday in Afghanistan's (search) first parliamentary elections in more than 30 years.

Preliminary results will be announced starting Wednesday or Thursday and in phases, in the event of unrest, officials said. Losing candidates are expected to bombard election authorities with complaints and accusations of cheating. Final certified results are due Oct. 22.

Suspected Taliban terrorists who failed to stop 6.8 million Afghans from voting Sept. 18 resumed attacks this week. A bomb at a Afghan-Pakistan border crossing Tuesday killed three people — a women and two boys — and wounded 20 others.

Elsewhere, in southern Afghanistan, security forces nabbed a district-level Taliban commander and killed five other rebels. Pakistan said it arrested Mullah Hakim Latifi (search), a Taliban spokesman, in a Pakistani province.

NATO's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search), said the alliance plans to deploy 6,000 extra troops with more "robust" rules for imposing security when it expands its Afghan peacekeeping mission into the volatile south of the country next year, bringing NATO's troop numbers in Afghanistan to around 15,000.

The election for new national and provincial assemblies is the latest step in Afghanistan's transition to democracy after two decades of war and the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in a U.S.-led war in late 2001.

The election Web site, which charts progress in the count, shows that in most provinces, the top-ranking candidates for the 249 Wolesi Jirga, or National Assembly, are warlords or leaders of mujahedeen factions, many of them active in the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s and the ruinous 1992-96 civil war that followed.

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a former guerrilla leader and arch conservative suspected of having had links with al-Qaida is set to win a seat in Kabul.

Hazrat Ali, a former provincial police chief accused of ties to illegal armed groups is leading in eastern Nangahar province. He and his militia were used by U.S. forces to hunt Taliban and al-Qaida.

But there are also plenty of new faces. Among the expected winners is 27-year-old Malalai Joya, a women's rights worker, who rose to prominence for daring to denounce powerful warlords at a post-Taliban constitutional convention two years ago.

Women candidates are reserved a quarter of all seats.

Three former Taliban government ministers — including the minister of vice and virtue who imposed harsh Islamic restrictions on women during its rule — appear to have failed resoundingly at the ballot box, so far winning only a few hundred votes each.

Yet in insurgency-plagued Zabul province, a former Taliban military commander, Abdul Salaam Rocketi, is leading. He battled against the U.S.-led ouster of the hardline militia, but has since denounced the rebels. He earned his last name for his skill in firing rockets.

Other likely winners include former President Burhanuddin Rabbani who led Afghanistan during the ruinous civil war, former communists, academics, doctors, journalists, Muslim clerics and an elder brother of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.

In the capital, the two chief rivals to Karzai in last year's presidential election — ethnic Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqeq and Younus Qanooni from the Northern Alliance — are leading.

It remains to be seen if they can marshal broader support within parliament to become an effective check on Karzai's dominance in Afghanistan's highly centralized political system.

The National Assembly has the power to reject Karzai's Cabinet selections, to question ministers and draft and approve laws. The provincial assemblies can only advise.

The joint U.N. Afghan election body says it is still investigating suspected vote fraud at hundreds of polling stations but maintains the irregularities won't undermine the credibility of the election.

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