Sunday, September 6, 2009

U.S.-German rift emerges over Afghan deaths case
An airstrike by U.S. fighter jets that appears to have killed Afghan civilians could turn into a major dispute for NATO allies Germany and the United States, as tensions began rising between them Sunday over Germany's role in ordering the attack.
Afghan officials say up to 70 people were killed in the early morning airstrike Friday in the northern province of Kunduz after Taliban militants stole two tanker trucks of fuel and villagers gathered to siphon off gas.

Afghan and NATO investigations are just beginning, but both German and U.S. officials already appeared to be trying to deflect blame.

U.S.: General confirms civilians hurt in Afghan airstrike
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said the Taliban's possession of the two tankers "posed an acute threat to our soldiers." German officials have said the tankers might have been used as suicide bombs.

"If there were civilian casualties or injuries, of course we deeply regret that. At the same time, it was clear that our soldiers were in danger," Jung said in comments to German broadcasters. "Consequently, I stand clearly behind our commander's decision" to order the air strike.

Meanwhile, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the top U.S. and NATO spokesman in the country, said German troops let too many hours pass before visiting the site of the bombing Friday.

He explained that it's important to hold the ground after a strike and determine what happened before the enemy comes out with its own version of events.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, visited the site Saturday where two charred trucks and yellow gas cans sat on a riverbed. He asked a top commander in Regional Command North about the response time.

"Why didn't RC-North come here quicker?" McChrystal asked Col. Georg Klein, the commander of the German base in Kunduz.

"I can honestly say it was a mistake," Klein answered, in a discussion witnessed by an Associated Press reporter.

On Sunday, Smith said that in McChrystal's judgment the response time "was probably longer than it should have been."

German troops in Afghanistan have long been criticized for avoiding combat operations, even as militants have increasingly infiltrated northern Afghanistan the last year, destabilizing the once-peaceful region.

Taliban militants stole two fuel tankers late Friday that became stuck on a riverbed outside Kunduz. Villagers — either forced by the militants or enticed by offers of free fuel — gathered near the trucks, even as U.S. jets patrolled overhead.

German commanders watching images from the U.S. aircraft could see about 120 people, McChrystal said Saturday. The commanders decided that the people were militants and ordered the airstrikes, Smith said, even though images provided by the U.S. aircraft would have been grainy and difficult to see.

Whether the German commanders or the U.S. pilot are at fault for any civilian casualties may turn into an inner-NATO tussle.

Smith said the ground force commander "is the decision maker for close air support. That's doctrine." But he also conceded that a pilot can refuse an order to drop a bomb.

Klein, in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, declined to say whether images provided by the U.S. jets had been clear enough for weapons to be seen among Afghans on the ground, citing the ongoing investigation.

A German Joint Terminal Air Controller, or JTAC, who spoke on condition that his name not be used because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly, said the rules for ordering an attack clearly state that the ultimate decision rests with the ground commander.

But rules also require that both the pilot and the JTAC get a good positive identification of the target before the commander can order a weapon deployed, the JTAC said.

"Only when both are sure that what we see is a target, only then will the pilot drop the bomb," the JTAC said.

The German Defense Ministry, meanwhile, pushed back against a story published in the Washington Post that German officials said painted their commander in a poor light and played up the U.S. version of events. The ministry said the article "will definitely influence at least the preliminary investigation by the various bodies."

"The Defense Ministry is very surprised about the unusual procedure of using a journalist as a source to reveal initial investigation results," the ministry said.

Kris Coratti, director of communications for the Washington Post, said in an e-mail: "The story speaks for itself."

Smith said a trip to Kunduz by military officials from Kabul was not an official investigation but a fact-finding trip.

"And I think it's much, much better for people to understand the facts," he said of the decision to allow a journalist to witness the discussion among military officials.

No NATO officials will yet say how many civilians they think may have died. Smith on Saturday said the preliminary overall death toll was believed to be 56. Afghan officials say it's in the low 70s.

Smith said he hopes a U.S.-German rift does not develop over the strike. "I hope everyone allows the investigation to proceed and we'll determine what we know more precisely and move on from there," Smith said.

The director of an Afghan human rights group criticized NATO's International Security Assistance Force for the deaths. "It was carelessness in terms of ISAF using force without doing enough to investigate whether this is a civilian location," Ajmal Samadi of Afghan Rights Monitor said.

German troops have long been criticized for restrictions that limit the battle their troops see. A U.S. based military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, said German troops don't have "the situational and combat experience" to confront Taliban on the ground.

"They're as oriented toward staying in their armored vehicles as any group I've met," Cordesman said. "They're not active enough to present much of a threat to the Taliban most of the time."

Klein rejected the claim that his troops lacked combat experience.

"Since I arrived here we have unfortunately seen many combat situations and my soldiers performed very well," he said.

"But the thing that's always given us a very good reputation in the civilian society here is that we tried as best as possible to exclude any civilian casualties, and I've got very good feedback on that from the Afghan people," he said

Khyber Pass comes under Pakistani attack

The latest military operation against insurgents in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber tribal region has seen thousands of people flee into surrounding areas.

Pakistan is cracking down on insurgents along its border with Afghanistan, especially the Khyber tribal belt which militants use as a safe haven from where they can launch attacks across the border.

Khyber has been of particular interest as it is the area in which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is suspected to be hiding.

Militants frequently attack vehicles along the famed Khyber Pass, which is where trucks filled with supplies for US troops pass into Afghanistan.

On the weekend the Pakistani military destroyed houses and centres for the training of militants.

One militant was killed and nine more taken into custody, while two people kidnapped by militants were rescued.

Officials have admitted the Taliban-affiliated group, Lashkar-e-Islam, the group responsible for the Mumbai bombings, has been a main target of the latest offensive.

"Capitalism is evil," says new Michael Moore film

VENICE - Capitalism is evil. That is the conclusion U.S. documentary maker Michael Moore comes to in his latest movie "Capitalism: A Love Story," which premieres at the Venice film festival Sunday.

Blending his trademark humor with tragic individual stories, archive footage and publicity stunts, the 55-year-old launches an all out attack on the capitalist system, arguing that it benefits the rich and condemns millions to poverty.

"Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil," the two-hour movie concludes.

"You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is democracy."

The bad guys in Moore's mind are big banks and hedge funds which "gambled" investors' money in complex derivatives that few, if any, really understood and which belonged in the casino.

Meanwhile, large companies have been prepared to lay off thousands of staff despite boasting record profits.

The filmmaker also sees an uncomfortably close relationship between banks, politicians and U.S. Treasury officials, meaning that regulation has been changed to favor the few on Wall Street rather than the many on Main Street.

He says that by encouraging Americans to borrow against the value of their homes, businesses created the conditions that led to the crisis, and with it homelessness and unemployment.

Moore even features priests who say capitalism is anti-Christian by failing to protect the poor.

"Essentially we have a law which says gambling is illegal but we've allowed Wall Street to do this and they've played with people's money and taken it into these crazy areas of derivatives," Moore told an audience in Venice.

"They need more than just regulation. We need to structure ourselves differently in order to create finance and money, support for jobs, businesses, etc."


Amid the gloom, Moore detects the beginnings of a popular movement against unbridled capitalism, and believes President Barack Obama's rise to power may bolster it.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport, it's a participatory event," he told a news conference. "If we don't participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy. So Obama will rise or fall based not so much on what he does but on what we do to support him."

Moore also warned other countries around the world against following the recent U.S. economic and political model.

The film follows factory workers who stage a sit-in at a Chicago glass factory when they are sacked with little warning and no pay and who eventually prevail over the bank.

And a group of citizens occupies a home that has been repossessed and boarded up by the lending company, forcing the police who come to evict them to back down.

The film re-visits some of Moore's earlier movies, including a trip to his native Flint where his father was a car assembly line worker and was able to buy a home, a car, educate his children and look forward to a decent pension.

But he brings it up to date with an examination of the financial crisis, demanding to speak to the bosses of companies at the center of the collapse and demanding that banks give back the hundreds of billions of bailout dollars to the country.

And he interviews an employee of a firm which buys up re-possessed, or "distressed" properties at a fraction of their original value and which is called Condo Vultures.

Healthcare speech puts Obama at center of debate

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama hopes to use a major speech next week to revitalize his push for healthcare reform -- and his success or failure could help define the rest of his term and perhaps his presidency.

When he addresses a rare joint session of Congress on September 9, Obama must persuade lawmakers, and an increasingly skeptical public, that he can pay for the nearly $1 trillion plan without boosting the huge U.S. budget deficit or cutting health insurance coverage for those who already have it.

The Democratic president must also offer specifics and overcome issues that opponents have used to exploit anti-reform sentiments -- such as charges the reform plan would finance abortions, create bureaucratic "death panels" to decide who gets care or guarantee healthcare to illegal immigrants.

Obama's speech comes as flagging opinion poll numbers have convinced the White House it is time to find a new strategy for striking a deal.

"In every presidency there are critical moments that become turning points and this could easily be one for Obama, because he has put so many chips on to healthcare reform, and it's been getting away from him in a major way," said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

Aides have said the administration is open to compromise, but insist the president still supports the "public option," a proposed government-run health insurance plan as an alternative option to private insurance that is heavily supported by Obama's liberal base.

The insurance industry strongly opposes the public option, and has spent millions lobbying against it.

In the quest for a middle ground, White House officials are talking to Senator Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, a state that backed Obama in the November 2008 presidential election.


Snowe is seen as Obama's best bet for winning any Republican Senate support at all for healthcare reform. The White House has said repeatedly it wants the plan to pass with support from members of both parties, although Democrats have the political power to push changes through unilaterally.

Snowe supports a compromise plan that would not initially include a public option, but would "trigger" the creation of a government program if insurance companies failed to meet cost and quality benchmarks.

"Conversations are taking place on her safety-net fallback option as they have throughout the debate this year, as well as other approaches to make certain people have access to affordable options," Julia Wanzco, Snowe's spokeswoman, said.

Healthcare reform is one of the long list of problems on Obama's agenda, but unlike the recession and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he inherited from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, healthcare is a defining issue for Obama, who has made it his top domestic policy priority.

"This is a chance to bring it back together and to make his partisans in Congress stand up and cheer. That's really what it's about," Sabato said.

Obama knows he is unlikely to win over more than the one or two moderate Republicans, so he has to unite Democrats, Sabato said. "Basically, I think his message to Democrats is, it's me or it's chaos," he said, referring to 1994, when then-President Bill Clinton's failed bid for healthcare reform helped cost the Democrats control of Congress.


A top Democrat, asking not to be identified by name, said Snowe's plan "is our best hope" for healthcare reform. The Democrat said it could draw some Republican support and keep that of some Democrats.

Some conservative Democrats have balked at the potential cost of reform, and expressed concern that the public option was too much government interference in the private insurance industry.

By making the speech, Obama is injecting himself squarely into the center of the debate after months leaving it largely to members of Congress and other surrogates to formulate a strategy and sell the overhaul to the public.

"His timing is perfect," said Jim Kessler of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank. He said that after letting Congress lead the debate in the first nine months and shape the legislation, Obama can step in and push through a solution, now that lawmakers have hit some major sticking points.

Obama has broad goals of reducing healthcare costs and bringing medical insurance to the 46 million Americans who do not have it. But opponents have used suggestions that the plan would fund abortions, provide healthcare for illegal immigrants or deny treatment to older Americans to fuel public distrust.

Opponents also contend that the "public option" is a step toward socialism -- virtually taboo in U.S. politics.

With conservatives within the party shaping up as a formidable obstacle to the reform push, Democrats need to take their debate over the public option behind closed doors, analysts said.

"We just need to get back to having a real discussion about healthcare. It's not about abortion or immigration or euthanasia," said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Without those issues, "We'll be left with the question - do people want to pay for near universal coverage? And that's a debate worth having," he said.

Thousands flee Khyber operation

PESHAWAR: Thousands of civilians are fleeing the latest military operation against insurgents of banned militants group Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) in Khyber Agency, a government official said Sunday.
The military destroyed two training centres and 15 militant homes of LI militants on Sunday, paramilitary troops said. One militant was killed and nine more taken into custody, a written statement from the Frontier Corps said, adding that two people kidnapped by militants had also been recovered.
The region is largely off-limits to journalists, making it difficult to verify the information independently.
Farooq Khan, a government official in Khyber, said hundreds of families had been fleeing the region since authorities relaxed a curfew on Friday.
"A few thousand, I think," he told The Associated Press by phone when asked how many civilians have so far fled.
He said there were no procedures in place to register the fleeing civilians, making impossible to reach an exact number. He said there were no plans for refugee camps and security forces were "keeping a strict eye" out for any militants trying to blend in.
Three villages in Khyber have been hard hit by the operation. While some families in Malik Din Khel, Sipah and Kambar Khel have left for other villages in the tribal area, most appeared to be leaving Khyber altogether, Khan said. Most of those families were heading to Peshawar.
There have been several army operations in past in the Khyber region that have always concluded with announcements by authorities that the area was cleared of all militants.
The Taliban-affiliated group Lashkar-e-Islam has been a main target of the latest offensive, which authorities say has killed about 90 alleged militants.

Fake Afghan Poll Sites Favored Karzai, Officials Assert

KABUL, Afghanistan — In the days before the disputed presidential election, Afghan election workers loyal to President Hamid Karzai set up hundreds of fictitious polling sites, where no one voted but that still registered hundreds of thousands of ballots toward the president’s re-election, according to senior Western and Afghan officials here.

The fake sites, as many as 800, existed only on paper, said a senior Western diplomat in Afghanistan who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the vote. Local workers reported that hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of votes for Mr. Karzai came from each of those places. That pattern was confirmed by another Western official based in Afghanistan.

“We think that about 15 percent of the polling sites never opened on Election Day,” the senior Western diplomat said. “But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai.”

Besides the fake sites, Mr. Karzai’s supporters also took over approximately 800 legitimate polling centers and used them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai, the officials said.

The result, the officials said, is that in some provinces, the pro-Karzai ballots may exceed the people who actually voted by a factor of 10. “We are talking about orders of magnitude,” the senior Western diplomat said.

The widening accounts of fraud pose a stark problem for the Obama administration, which has deployed 68,000 American troops here to help reverse gains by Taliban insurgents. American officials hoped that the election would help turn Afghans away from the Taliban by giving them a greater voice in government. Instead, the Obama administration now faces the prospect of having to defend an Afghan administration for the next five years that is widely seen as illegitimate.

“This was fraud en masse,” the Western diplomat said.

Most of the fraud perpetrated on behalf of Mr. Karzai, officials said, took place in the Pashtun-dominated areas of the east and south where officials said that turnout on Aug. 20 was exceptionally low. That included Mr. Karzai’s home province, Kandahar, where preliminary results indicate that more than 350,000 ballots have been turned in to be counted. But Western officials estimated that only about 25,000 people actually voted there.

Waheed Omar, the main spokesman for Mr. Karzai’s campaign, acknowledged Sunday that there had been cases of fraud committed by different candidates. But he accused the president’s opponents of trying to score political points by making splashy accusations in the news media. “There have been cases — we have reported numerous cases — and our view is the only place where discussion can be held is in the Election Complaints Commission,” he said.

American officials have mostly kept a public silence about the fraud allegations. A senior American official said Sunday that they were looking into the allegations behind the scenes. “An absence of public statements does not mean an absence of concern and engagement on these issues,” the official said.

But a different Western official in Kabul said that there were divisions among the international community and Afghan political circles over how to proceed. This official said he believed the next four or five days would decide whether the entire electoral process would stand or fall. “This is crunch time,” he said.

Adding to the drumbeat, on Sunday the deputy director of the Afghan Independent Election Commission said that the group was disqualifying all the ballots cast in 447 polling sites because of fraud. The deputy director, Daoud Ali Najafi, said it was not clear how many votes had been affected, or what percentage they represented of the total. He gave no details of what fraud had been discovered.

With about three-quarters of the ballots counted in the Aug. 20 election, Mr. Karzai leads with nearly 49 percent of the vote, compared with 32 percent for his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent, the election goes to a runoff.

Officials in Kabul say it will probably take months before the Election Complaints Commission, which is dominated by Westerners appointed by the United Nations, will be able to declare a winner. Such an interregnum with no clear leader in office could prove destabilizing for a country that is already beset by ethnic division and an increasingly violent insurgency.

One opposition candidate for president, Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister, said that the scale of the fraud on Election Day had deeply damaged the political process that was being slowly built in Afghanistan.

“For five years Mr. Karzai was my president,” he said in an interview at his home in Kabul. “Now how many Afghans will consider him their president?”

Since ballots were cast last month, anecdotal evidence has emerged of widespread fraud across the Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where Mr. Karzai has many allies. Many of the allegations come from Kandahar Province, where Mr. Karzai’s younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the chairman of the provincial council and widely regarded as the most powerful man in the region. Last week, the governor of Shorabak District, which lies in Kandahar Province, claimed that Hamid Karzai’s allies shut down all the polling centers in the area and falsified 23,900 ballots for Mr. Karzai.

Two provincial council candidates in Kandahar, both close to the government, confirmed that widespread pro-Karzai fraud had occurred, in particular in places where poor security prevented observers and candidates’ representatives from watching.

“Now people will not trust the provincial council and the government system,” said Muhammad Ehsan, the deputy head of the provincial council, who was running for re-election. “Now people understand who has come to power and how.”

Hajji Abdul Majid, 75, the chief of the tribal elders council in Argestan District, in Kandahar Province, said that despite the fact that security forces opened the town’s polling place, no one voted, so any result from his district would be false.

“The people know that the government just took control of the district center for that day of the elections,” he said. “People are very frustrated. They don’t believe in the government.”

He added: “If Karzai is re-elected, people will leave the country or join the Taliban.”

More evidence of fraud has emerged in the past few days. In Zangabad, about 20 miles west of Kandahar, local residents say no voting took place on Aug. 20. The village’s single polling site, the Sulaiman Mako School, is used by Taliban guerrillas as their headquarters, the residents said. The area around Zangabad is one of the most contested in Afghanistan. Despite the nonexistent turnout, Afghan election records show that nearly 2,000 ballots were collected from the Sulaiman Mako School and sent to Kabul to be counted by election officials.

The allegations in Zangabad are being echoed throughout the Panjwai District. Official Afghan election records show that 16 polling centers were supposed to be open on Election Day. But according to at least one local leader, only a fraction of that number actually existed.

Haji Agha Lalai is a senior member of the provincial council in Kandahar, where Panjwai is located. As a candidate for re-election, he sent election observers across the area, including to Panjwai. In an interview, Mr. Lalai said that only “five or six” polling centers were open in Panjwai District that day — far fewer than the 16 claimed by the Afghan government.

So far, the Independent Election Commission has released results from seven of Panjwai District’s polling centers. The tally so far: 5,213 votes for Mr. Karzai, 328 for Mr. Abdullah.

Provincial status for FATA demanded

PESHAWAR: The FATA Reforms Movement (FRM) has demanded provincial status for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) after approval of a self-governance reforms package for the Northern Areas.
“Like Gilgit-Baltistan, the federal government should make such an arrangement under which FATA could have its own governor, chief minister and 75-member independent assembly,” FFM President Asad Afridi told a press conference at Peshawar Press Club. He demanded that the government give a province’s status to FATA and appoint SAFRON minister as its governor. He claimed that independent province’s status for FATA would not only bring the tribal areas into the country’s mainstream politics but also FATA people would get their identity.
Flanked by FRM Secretary General Mohammad Tahir Shah Safi and Spokesman Zar Ali Musazai, Asad Afridi said that the federal government should also focus on FATA women’s representation in the country’s politics and allocate seats for them in Senate. Besides, he also demanded of the government to increase the number of National Assembly seats for each FATA agency from one to two. The FRM also demanded allocation of a seat for each Frontier Region (FR) in the National Assembly. Terming the federal government’s reforms package for FATA as insufficient, he said the president’s announced reforms package was unclear.
He said that though the president announced extension of Political Parties Act to FATA, but problems of FATA people were neglected in the recently announced package. Criticising the black law Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), he said the law empowered only one man (political agent) who at the same time was a ruler as well as a judge.
He said executive should be separated from judiciary in tribal areas; otherwise, people would have no other option but to go to Taliban courts for justice rather than to file their cases in political agents and assistant political agents’ courts. He said that if the government wanted to end the influence of Taliban, it must concentrate on winning hearts and minds of the people by redressing their grievances, providing them cheap and speedy justice and creating employment opportunities for them.

Five foreign airlines suspend Peshawar flights

Five out of six foreign airlines flying to Peshawar have suspended their flights due to security concerns following the recent rocket attacks on the Peshawar International Airport, an official said yesterday. The suspension of several international flights is causing difficulties for passengers. Following the latest rocket attack on the Peshawar airport in mid-August, five Gulf-based airlines suspended their flights to Peshawar. These include Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Gulf Air, Air Arabia and Etihad Airways. Qatar Airways in the only foreign airline still flying to Peshawar. It operates two flights a week on the Doha-Peshawar sector.

U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy announced in March promised increased resources and coordination in a war Obama described as shortchanged by the Bush administration. He authorized deployment of an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a surge of hundreds of civilian officials and a significant boost in military and aid funding for both countries.The results so far have been uncertain. The Pakistani military has rousted the local Taliban from the Swat Valley area, and missiles launched from unmanned U.S. aircraft have killed a number of insurgent leaders in the Pakistan tribal areas along the Afghan border. But no progress has been reported on Obama's main goal of destroying al-Qaeda's sanctuary in the border area.The stepped-up U.S. effort in Afghanistan has shown few results over a summer marked by an expanding Taliban presence and the highest U.S. casualty rate of the eight-year war. Obama appointed a new commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who has assessed the situation as "serious" and is expected to ask for more troops. As Congress has grown increasingly restive and opinion polls show falling public support, the administration has said real progress must be visible within 12 to 18 months.

President Hamid Karzai takes 100% of votes in opposition stronghold
In the southern Afghan district of Shorabak, the tribesmen gathered shortly before last month’s presidential election to discuss which candidate they would back. After a debate they chose to endorse Abdullah Abdullah, President Hamid Karzai’s leading opponent.

The tribal leaders prepared to deliver a landslide for Abdullah – but it never happened. They claim Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother and leader of the Kandahar provincial council, detained the local governor and closed all the district’s 46 polling sites on election day.

The ballot boxes were taken back to the district headquarters where, tribal leaders allege, they were stuffed with ballots by local policemen. A total of 23,900 ballots were finally sent off to Kabul, the capital – every one of them a vote for Karzai.

The alleged fraud, which Ahmed Wali Karzai denies, was the most blatant example among hundreds of incidents that have threatened to make a mockery of the election.

The sheer scale and audacity of the cheating, which includes supposedly “state-sponsored” ballot-stuffing, vote burning, intimidation and the closure of polling stations in antigovernment areas, has overwhelmed the country’s fledgling Electoral Complaints Commission.

Its staff are battling with more than 2,600 reports of vote-rigging, including at least 650 deemed serious enough “materially” to influence the result.

“This is a blatant violation of the procedure and I think it is stealing in daylight,” Abdullah said yesterday.

His aides say privately that if Karzai wins the 50.1% of votes needed for victory in the first round, they won’t accept the result. Abdullah said he intended to use all legal means to challenge any Karzai victory; his supporters talked menacingly of “Iran-style protests with Kalashnikovs”.

In the Spin Boldak district in the south of the country, the fifth-ranked candidate, Mirwais Yasini, accused pro-Karzai agents of taking out his votes and burning them.

“Democracy is dead in Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s buried. I’m not even bothering to get my results any more because it’s completely rigged. It’s completely biased.”

In the southern province of Oruzgan, pro-Karzai staff tried to bar election observers from entering the polling stations. Abdul Raziq waited three hours outside one station in Tarin Kowt, while election officials questioned his credentials as an observer. He watched 60 to 80 voters go into the Sayed Al-Khan high school, while he argued with the supposedly independent officials.

“Finally, when they let me in, I saw all the ballot boxes were full,” he said. He had arrived at 8am, an hour after the polls opened. “No one was voting because there were rockets, but when I went in, there were eight boxes, all of them full of votes.”

Sher Mohammed Khan, a tribal elder from Oruzgan and an Abdullah supporter, said three of his observers were arrested. “In Derawut district the police chief, Omar Khan, told observers not to come near the polling stations. His henchmen threatened to kill anyone who tried to get in,” he said.

Insecurity in Kandahar and Helmand stopped election observers from visiting all but a handful of polling sites. The country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), which is counting the votes, is supposed to spot substantial irregularities.

Yet in the Kandahar village of Torzai, the results showed that Karzai had won every vote. At four of its eight polling stations, he received exactly 500 votes. At a primary school in Dahani, Helmand, Karzai also won 100% of the votes.

A row within the IEC over what to do with the suspect ballots has held up the announcement of further results for the past four days. Its last tally on Wednesday showed Karzai three points short of his 50.1% target. He may yet face a divisive second round run-off against Abdullah.