US, UK issue warnings over fraud-tainted Afghan polls
The United States warned yesterday that a long delay in resolving Afghanistan's fraud-tainted polls would benefit the Taliban and al-Qaeda while Britain refused to "be party to any whitewash".
Afghans went to the polls last month to elect a president for only the second time, eight years after the US-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power following the September 11, 2001 attacks blamed on al-Qaeda.
But the August 20 presidential and provincial council elections have been overshadowed by allegations of vote-rigging and mass fraud, and marred by low turnout blamed on Taliban intimidation and record levels of violence.
The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered thousands of votes thrown out from 83 polling stations in three provinces due to fraud, but there is no timescale for investigations across the rest of the country.
Richard Holbrooke, who is President Barack Obama's pointman for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was asked by the BBC whether it could create an unstable environment if counting from the presidential election took months.
"I don't think you're going to have a process that's drawn out that long, at least I hope not," Holbrooke told the BBC in an interview.
"The beneficiary of that would be the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and I need to underscore that... the beneficiary of any delays of the sort you're talking about would be the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and everybody understands that."
The US State Department said it could take months to determine the results and probe the alleged irregularities.
President Hamid Karzai, whose relationship with his Western backers has faltered during a seven-year rule marred by corruption and insecurity, is on track to win with more than 54 percent of the votes released so far.
His main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah trails with less than 30 percent and has alleged massive state-engineered fraud in favour of a second five-year term for Karzai.
Preliminary results are due on Saturday, with the international community urging officials to ensure a clean process that gives legitimacy to the victor and brings an end to the political uncertainty.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he had "concerns" about serious allegations of fraud.
"We will not be party to any whitewash when it comes to the elections," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the BBC.
"That's why the United Nations established the electoral complaints commission, it's why they've dismissed the results from 83 polling stations, so of course we have concerns about very serious allegations of fraud."
Official results are due after September 17, but international observers have urged that no winner be declared until the fraud claims are resolved.
Holbrooke said scrapping the election was "out of the question".
"A re-run of the whole election? Ain't going to happen," he said.
A leading think tank expressed concern about the dangers of a power vacuum should the election be unresolved for months.
London-based policy research group, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) released a map showing that a resurgent Taliban now has a significant presence across virtually all Afghanistan.
It warned that any potential run-off could be delayed until spring because of harsh winter conditions, leaving Afghanistan in a constitutional vacuum.
"This raises the possibility of both a lack of legal authority in the presidency and resulting political instability and government paralysis dragging on for many months," said ICOS president Norine MacDonald.
ICOS said the Taliban had widened its nationwide reach since last year and now had a "permanent presence" in 80 percent of the country with its influence spreading in once relatively peaceful regions in the west and the north.
On Friday, Nato announced the killing of another US soldier in eastern Afghanistan, where Taliban-linked violence has soared.
In southern Kandahar province, another Taliban flashpoint, a suicide attack wounded six policemen and three civilians, the governor's office said.