- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — A 27-year-old woman and defiant critic of Afghanistan’s powerful warlords won one of the first seats declared yesterday in provisional results from landmark parliamentary elections, a key step in the nation’s transition to democracy.

The U.N.-Afghan election body reported “serious” cases of fraud, including ballot-box stuffing after election day. It excluded 299 polling stations from the vote count, but declared that the Sept. 18 poll was still credible.

President Hamid Karzai and NATO’s chief diplomat, meanwhile, expressed confidence that a planned deployment of 6,000 NATO troops in volatile southern provinces would happen next year — a move that could free up thousands of U.S. forces.

Some NATO members, including France and Germany, are concerned that the peacekeeping force, currently deployed in the more stable north and west, might become embroiled in counterinsurgency operations against Taliban-led rebels in the south, which are being handled by a separate U.S.-led coalition. They also object to plans to put both missions under NATO command.

On a trip to the southern city of Kandahar after meeting Mr. Karzai, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he expected the alliance to resolve the issues “by November, certainly by the end of the year.”

In Kabul, the election body declared unofficial winners for national and provincial assembly seats in two of the country’s 34 provinces, Farah and Nimroz, and said most of the other results would be released next week.

Final, certified results are expected by late October after what officials predict will be a frenetic complaints period.

“I’m very happy and thankful for Afghan men and women who voted for me,” said Malalai Joya, a women’s rights worker from Farah, who won one of her province’s five seats in the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, the national assembly.

“My first priorities when I go to parliament will be peace, security and stability, and to collect all the guns from warlords,” she said.

Miss Joya rose to prominence by denouncing powerful warlords at a post-Taliban constitutional convention two years ago. Despite concerted United Nations-backed efforts to disarm militia leaders, they remain a dominant force in much of Afghanistan.

U.S. and Afghan officials hope that democratic elections will be a major step toward stability after two decades of conflict and the ouster of the Taliban regime in a U.S.-led war in late 2001. A quarter of parliamentary seats are reserved for women in a bid to adjust the male-dominated slant of Afghan politics.

The partial results show that the top-ranking candidates in most provinces are warlords or leaders of Islamic militia factions — many of them veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s and the ruinous 1992-96 civil war.

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