I was on the phone earlier this evening with a friend in Kabul who analyzed the early returns in the Afghan elections, which show President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah running neck and neck. The results–10% of the vote is in–are mostly from more urban areas like Kabul and Herat. None of them are from the Pashtun majority areas of the South where turnout was lighter, but expected to go heavily in Karzai’s direction.
Most of the allegations of voter fraud come from the more rural areas, especially in the Pashtun lands, where tribal elders often will gather their people and say, “We’re voting for Candidate X,” and then supervise the vote (the illiteracy rates in these areas run as high as 90%). It is possible that some of these votes–for both candidates–will be thrown out, but my friend thinks that Karzai will win the election with something more, but not much more, than 50%…although it is not impossible that Abdullah force a runoff, which will be held in early October. With about 400,000 ballots counted, the total vote looks to be in the neighborhood of 4 million–not a stunning turnout, but not a complete embarrassment either. The Afghan Army and police took the lead in supplying security, with international troops in a support role. There was some violence, but no extensive disruptions (the Taliban managed to intimidate many voters, especially in the Pashtun regions, before election day).
I’ll have more on the elections, and the implications for U.S. policy, in my print column this week.