Taliban ‘cut off fingers of two Afghan voters’

Taliban militants cut off the ink-stained fingers of two Afghan voters in the militant south during the presidential election, the country’s top election monitoring group said on Saturday.

Two voters who had dipped their index fingers in purple ink — a fraud prevention measure — were attacked in Kandahar province shortly after voting on Thursday, according to Nader Nadery, the head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan.

Rumours that militants would cut off voters’ ink-stained fingers spread before the vote following threats from the Taliban.

Nadery said his group also saw widespread problems with election officials pressuring people to vote for certain candidates. Election monitors also saw voters carrying boxes of voter cards to polling sites, he said, allowing them to vote multiple times. There were also problems with underage voting and election officials being ejected from polling stations by representatives of candidates.

Western powers on Saturday rushed to declare Afghanistan’s presidential elections a success despite evidence of irregularities and violence on polling day and growing uncertainty about whether the vote would return a credible result.

Both the leading candidates, Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, declared they had won Thursday’s poll, generating concerns of a full-blown dispute. Election officials warned that it would take several days to determine the result and the extent to which voting had been marred by corruption and low voter turnout.

On Saturday night Barack Obama described the election as “an important step forward” in attempts by Afghans to take control of their future. Referring to attempts by the Taliban to derail the democratic process, he said: “Even in the face of this brutality, millions of Afghans exercised the right to choose their leaders and determine their own destiny. I believe that the future belongs to those that want to build, not those who want to destroy.”

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary general, said the poll was a “clear demonstration that the Afghan people want democracy, they want freedom and reject terrorism”.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to the region, said the Taliban had “utterly failed to disrupt these elections”, despite a day of clashes. Other Western diplomats were also bullish about a poll they said could have been “far worse” in terms of Taliban attacks. US military officials have already qualified the vote as a reasonable success.

Democracy and rights groups offered a more sober assessment. The Washington-based International Republican Institute, said: “Unfortunately, such issues as lower turnout, fraud and abuse of state resources brought these elections to a lower standard than the 2004 and 2005 Afghan elections.”

Human Rights Watch also questioned whether “one of the most violent days witnessed in Afghanistan in the last eight years” could be described as a success.

Rachel Reid, an HRW researcher in Afghanistan, said the claims would “not ring true” for Afghans living in the south and east, where Taliban attacks were most severe. “They deserve an honest assessment … If international standards are dropped, there risks being a serious credibility gap, which will only serve to increase disillusionment with the efforts to create a democracy.”

A senior Nato envoy cautioned against being too quick to welcome results that could turn sour if examples of mass fraud were detected. Western powers with more than 60 000 troops in Afghanistan are eager to avoid the elections being deemed a sham or a muddle, compounding a worsening security situation in which dozens of foreign troops are dying each month. The post-election uncertainty is not helping to calm tension. The Independent Election Commission said on Sunday it would not publish any official data until Tuesday.

Glenn Cowan, an observer from Democracy International, said the delay was “probably a mistake”. “Almost all elections add somewhat to political tension and this one is not different,” he said. “The best way to relive that tension is to provide information to people about an already uncertain election.”

That uncertainty has stemmed from three principal factors: violence, intimidation of voters and candidates, and allegations of fraud. The election complaints commission said it had received around 120 complaints so far, mostly relating to allegations of voter fraud, intimidation of voters and ballot-box stuffing, but the main candidates were unwilling to criticise the process, with Abdullah saying the vote had been “quite good”. – guardian.co.uk

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