- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | The Afghan election commission Wednesday rejected President Hamid Karzai’s request to move the presidential elections to next month, saying the country won’t be safe enough or have enough money by then to hold a vote.

The commission’s decision came as a car bomb exploded outside the main U.S. base at Bagram, underscoring the shaky security situation the country faces as a resurgent Taliban militia increases its attacks.

Mr. Karzai had asked the commission to move the elections from Aug. 20 to spring, but the commission said it could not because of bad spring weather, lack of funds, security issues and logistical problems like the distribution of ballots.

“Weather, funding, operational challenges and logistical issues, and of course, security remain the same and there have not been solutions to these problems,” Azizullah Lodin, the head of the Afghan election commission, told reporters. Adhering to the earlier deadline would be “impossible,” Mr. Lodin said.

He said $223 million is needed to hold the vote, and that his commission has received nothing except a pledge of $100 million from the international community.

The U.S. has called for an August vote. Thousands more U.S. troops are expected to arrive by then and could help with security. The U.N. welcomed the decision, saying the August vote would provide the time needed to make logistical and security preparations.

Mr. Karzai last week asked the commission to re-examine the date to see if it could be held in line with the Afghan constitution, which says he must step down on May 22 and that elections must be held 30 to 60 days before that.

A late summer vote means the country will face a three-month gap between the end of Mr. Karzai’s term and the election.

Lawmakers have said they won’t recognize Mr. Karzai as president beginning May 22, which could throw the country into a constitutional crisis. Some lawmakers have called for a caretaker president to replace Mr. Karzai.

The constitution gives Mr. Karzai at least two options to avoid a crisis: Call a state of emergency that would extend his presidency, but which would need lawmakers’ approval, or call a loya jirga - a grand meeting of Afghan leaders - to negotiate an agreement.

The car bomb blast outside Bagram wounded three civilian contractors working for a U.S. company, but it wasn’t immediately clear what nationalities the three were, said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a U.S. spokeswoman.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the blast soon after the attack.

In the south, a Canadian general said a roadside bomb blast in Kandahar province late Tuesday killed three Canadian soldiers.

The U.S. is sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan this year to bolster the 38,000 already in the country.

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