More than 3,000 donkeys are being mobilized in Afghanistan to help deliver ballots for next month's presidential election, what the top U.N. official here is calling the most complicated poll he's ever seen, AP reported.
Some 17 million registered voters are eligible to vote Aug. 20 for Afghanistan's next president and provincial council members - but the logistics of setting up polling centers in a country plagued by security concerns, rugged terrain and a lack of infrastructure has proved challenging.
"These are the most complicated elections I have seen," Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, said Tuesday while surveying a cavernous hangar where election materials packed and sealed in blue plastic boxes were being loaded onto trucks for delivery to the provinces.
Eide said donkeys will be used to carry ballots to the country's most inaccessible regions, areas that trucks and even helicopters cannot reach. Some 3,171 burros will be loaded with ballots and voting boxes and sent along the steep ridges of the Hindu Kush mountain range, which bisects the middle of Afghanistan.
Another concern is how to hold polls in the turbulent south and east, where U.S. and British forces fighting the Taliban this month have suffered their highest casualties of the eight-year war.
Of 7,000 polling centers planned across the country, security forces have not yet confirmed whether voting can take place in about 700 of them, said Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission.
Western officials say that legitimacy of the elections - the third since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 - may hinge on the ability to hold them in as many areas of the south and east as possible.
Almost all the problematic polling centers are in the country's ethnic Pashtun areas, where the insurgency is the strongest, said a Western official working on the elections who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The inability of the authorities to secure hundreds of polling centers, coupled with a potential low turnout among voters in provinces mired in war could threaten the legitimacy of the poll in the eyes of many Afghans, the official said.
President Hamid Karzai is considered the favorite to win a second five-year term but his chances could hinge on the turnout by his fellow ethnic Pashtuns, the country's biggest ethnic group and the heart of the Taliban ranks.
Karzai's only serious competition in the 39-candidate field is believed to be former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who could force a runoff if low turnout among the Pashtuns prevents Karzai from claiming a majority of the votes.
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Karzai reached out to disaffected Pashtuns, calling for a dialogue with Taliban members who are not affiliated with al-Qaida and who are willing to repudiate violence.
Eide said is "tremendously important" to provide access to the polling stations to as many people as possible.
"The aim is to make as much of the country as possible secure for the elections to take place," Eide said.