Image: Afghan election workers move ballot boxes into a Kabul store on Monday.
Ahmad Masood  /  Reuters
Afghan election workers move ballot boxes into a Kabul store on Monday.
updated 9/20/2005 7:17:31 AM ET 2005-09-20T11:17:31

Afghanistan on Tuesday began counting votes cast in its historic parliamentary elections, and al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader criticized the election in a tape aired on Arabic television.

Several of the country’s 34 counting centers began tallying ballots as others waited for votes to be delivered, said a spokesman for the Afghan-U.N. election board, Aleem Siddique. Helicopters and even donkeys were being used to transport ballots in hard-to-reach areas of the country.

Siddique said the counting centers expected to receive all the estimated 6 million ballots by Thursday. Some 7,000 people have been enlisted to count the votes, a process expected to take weeks.

The vote was seen as the last formal step toward democracy after a U.S.-led force drove the Taliban from power in 2001 for refusing to hand over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Initial indications put the turnout at just over 50 percent — compared with 70 percent in last year’s presidential election, when 8 million voted, installing President Hamid Karzai.

Supporters of the Taliban regime have stepped up assaults in Afghanistan this year, and more than 1,200 people died in violence in the six months before the elections, many of them militants.

Two rockets struck Jalalabad, the main city of eastern Nangahar province early Tuesday, slightly injuring one person at a government building, Interior Ministry spokesman Yusuf Stanikzai said.

Another election board spokesman, Baheen Sultan Ahmad, said vote counting had not yet started in Jalalabad — which has counting centers for Nangarhar and two neighboring provinces — because of security concerns. A roadside bomb exploded near a truck carrying ballots in Nangarhar on Sunday but there was no damage to the vehicle or ballot boxes.

Al-Zawahri: Polls 'nothing but a farce'
In a five-minute videotape aired late Monday on Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV, bin Laden’s Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said the polls were “nothing but a farce” and held “under the terror of warlords” — an apparent reference to faction leaders in Afghanistan’s destructive civil conflict of the 1990s, some of whom were candidates.

“Thieves and warlords are controlling affairs in the country, where international monitors can’t observe more than 10 constituencies even if they wanted to,” al-Zawahri said. Both al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding along the rugged Pakistan-Afghan border.

Although there were no major attacks to disrupt voting, officials believe the lower turnout may have been due to fears of Taliban threats of violence, the presence of warlords on the ballots and the bewildering choice of candidates.

Also, many Afghans distrust politicians they blame for plunging the country into chaos and aren’t convinced they can drag it out of poverty and pain.

Abdul Satar, a 50-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul, said he went to a polling place but marked his ballots with an ’X’ as a protest.

“Warlords, illiterates, communists, Taliban,” Satar said. “How can I believe these people will serve the country?”

In a preliminary report, a European Union observer mission gave the polling a positive review but said vote secrecy was not always maintained. It said shortcomings during the campaign included intimidation, intervention by officials, inadequate voter lists and “deplorable” killings of candidates and election workers.

Complete provisional results from the voting for parliament and 34 provincial councils are not expected for at least two weeks. Officials hope to have certified results by Oct. 22.

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