- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

KABUL (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s top challenger in disputed elections alleged Tuesday the embattled head of state engineered the resignation of a chief fraud investigator to cast doubt over a process that may force a runoff vote.

Results from the Aug. 20 elections have been delayed by more than a month because of massive fraud allegations. A five-member, U.N.-backed panel is investigating the charges, and its decision on how many votes to throw out will determine whether Karzai wins outright — as preliminary results show — or if a runoff is required.

One of two Afghans on the Electoral Complaints Commission, Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai, resigned Monday because, he said, the three foreigners on the panel — one American, one Canadian and one Dutch national — were “making all decisions on their own.”

A deputy campaign manager for former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s top challenger, called the resignation a move by the Karzai campaign to call into question the validity of the fraud investigations.

“Barakzai’s resignation has direct connection to Karzai. It was Karzai’s idea,” Saleh Mohammad Registani said. “Karzai is trying to bring the work of the ECC into question.”

He said Barakzai was widely considered to be biased toward Karzai.

Representatives for Karzai could not be reached for comment, however the president said in an interview with ABC television that the resignation has cast doubt on the work of the commission.

He said officials should “do everything now to remove those suspicions and to remove any of the stigmas and to prove that it is impartial and not dictated from outside from foreign enemies.”

Karzai said the election was generally fair and free, a sharp contrast from a statement earlier this week from the U.N.’s top envoy in Afghanistan that “widespread fraud” marred the vote.

“There were instances of fraud, no doubt. There were irregularities,” Karzai said. “But the election as a whole was good and free and democratic.”

Barakzai was appointed by the Afghan Supreme Court, whose judges were named to their posts by the president.

Barakzai has held a number of government posts, but none overtly political. He has served as the head of the Supreme Court’s Islamic verdict department and its documentation department. During 2005 elections, he headed the Media Complaint Commission, overseeing coverage of the election.

The operating procedures of the panel allow it to continue working and even issuing decisions with fewer than five members. The group needs only a quorum of three people — one of them Afghan — to meet and issue rulings.

Registani argued that even the appearance of an injustice could be used to undermine the credibility of the commission.

“If anything comes out of this that is against Karzai’s interests, then Karzai will say the Supreme Court member was not present at the last crucial meetings, so all these decisions were made by foreigners,” Registani said.

Abdullah’s camp says it is confident the election will go to a second round.

Abdul Malik Kamawi, a Supreme Court justice, said the court was ready to appoint another commissioner, but only if Barakzai submitted an official resignation.

The Electoral Complaints Commission has not yet received a formal resignation from Barakzai, said Nellika Little, a spokeswoman for the group.

In some of the latest violence reported in the troubled nation, Afghan forces killed 15 insurgents in southern Kandahar province during fighting Monday that also left one police officer dead, the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry also said five Taliban fighters were killed Monday in Zabul province’s Arghandab district.

In neighboring Shahjoy district, the NATO-led coalition said a joint Afghan-international force killed several suspected militants in a vehicle it had stopped after they “moved with hostile intent.” The coalition said it found bomb-making materials in the vehicle along with grenades, rifles and ammunition.

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