KABUL, Afghanistan – The Afghan election commission said Thursday that it had opened an investigation into allegations that a top government official pressured an election worker to rig the results of the parliamentary ballot in western Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, NATO forces said they were looking into the shooting death of an Afghan policeman in the south, allegedly by a NATO soldier.
The Afghan election commission said it had received an audio recording of a more than 20-minute telephone call purportedly between an election worker in Kabul and Ismail Khan, the Afghan minister of energy of water and the former powerful governor of Herat province in western Afghanistan.
The recording, first broadcast on Afghan television and obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, is the latest allegation of fraud in the Sept. 18 parliamentary election and one of the first pieces of evidence that high-level government officials may have tried to fix results.
Since preliminary results were released last month, candidates who lost have been protesting across Afghanistan, alleging that ballot boxes were stuffed, legitimate votes were discarded and some members of the election commission caved to pressure to make sure certain candidates won.
Election officials so far have excluded 1.3 million ballots, or about 23 percent of the 5.6 million cast. More than 4,000 complaints have been filed with a government election fraud watchdog group, which has submitted 413 of the complaints to the attorney general's office for criminal prosecution.
Noor Mohammed Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, said the commissioners have not yet identified the voices on the tape.
"We have started a very serious investigation to identify the persons who are speaking over the phone with each other," he said.
However, one of the losing candidates in Herat province listened to the recording and claimed he was positive that the two talking were Khan and election worker Abdul Rashid Ershad. The candidate, Ghulam Qadir Akbar, said Ershad had taped the phone conversation and gave copies of the recording to some of the candidates to prove that Khan was pressuring him to tamper with vote counts.
"We know that Ershad was under pressure from Ismail Khan a lot," said Akbar, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Herat for the past nine years. "Very clearly I can say that it's Ismail Khan's voice who is ordering the IEC employee to have certain people win and certain people lose."
Mohammad Wahid, a spokesman and secretary for Khan, said the minister had no comment on the allegations. Ershad could not be reached for comment.
On the recording, the person Akbar alleges is Khan says, "I hope that the next results you announce will be all of the people that I have named for you."
The election worker listens as he is instructed to either include or exclude about a dozen individuals, including Akbar, from the list of winning candidates.
"Did you see the list that was released?" the election worker asks. "They were all in your favor. It was exactly what you wanted from us."
Later in the conversation, the election worker says, "The person that you don't like, Akbar, we removed his name."
The election commission and fraud investigators said they were re-examining results from hundreds of polling stations that arrived at a central counting center after the announcement of preliminary results or were wrongly excluded from the results.
The commission said it was looking into tallies from more than 700 stations for a variety of reasons, including forms that weren't signed by appropriate officials, stations that reported no votes even though candidates have evidence of voters casting ballots there, and stations that had more ballots cast than the maximum available.
The litany of fraud allegations and disputed results has prompted the attorney general's office to call for investigations into specific regions or types of inconsistencies.
The United Nations chief in Afghanistan, however, said in a statement Thursday that the attorney general's office should leave such rulings to the election commission and the designated fraud investigators, and not stray outside of its authority to conduct criminal prosecutions.
"I trust that the attorney general's office will defer electoral decisions to electoral authorities," Staffan de Mistura said in the statement.
Meanwhile, in Kandahar, the policeman who witnessed the incident between the U.S. soldier and a local policeman said the two men were stationed together in a security tower.
The U.S. serviceman began taking photos of nearby girls attending school angering the Afghan and prompting an argument, said the policeman who witnessed the event.
When the Afghan attacked the U.S. soldier, he was shot four times, said the policeman who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.
The policeman's account could not be confirmed.
NATO confirmed the death of the police officer "in a shooting incident" but did not provide details, saying that it was under investigation by Afghan police and NATO forces.
Dr. Mohammad Qasim at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar City also confirmed the death of the policeman, who was named Abdullah. Qasim said he had been shot once in head, twice in the chest and once in the abdomen.
Kandahar provincial officials and Afghan police officials in the city declined to comment on the case.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.