The international community has widely praised Afghanistan for holding national elections that saw a heavy turnout despite complaints about a shortage of ballots and reports of fraud. In 20 Afghan provinces clear results have started coming.
Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats and crowded into mosques and schools being used as polling centers to vote Saturday for a new president and provincial councils.
President Hamid Karzai is on his way out, constitutionally barred from a third team after leading the country since after the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
Ballot boxes have been loaded onto trucks and donkeys to be taken to Independent Election Commission facilities where they are being tallied.
Officials have said partial results could be released today but caution it is likely to be at least a week before a complete picture emerges.
Meanwhile NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen hailed the elections in Afghanistan Saturday as an “historic moment”, praising the “enthusiasm” of voters and the “outstanding job” by Afghan security forces.
“I congratulate the millions of Afghan men and women from across the country who have cast their votes in presidential and provincial council elections with such an impressive turnout and enthusiasm,” Rasmussen said in a statement, calling the vote “a historic moment for Afghanistan”.
This year the last of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force’s troops will pull out of Afghanistan, leaving local forces to battle the resilient Taliban insurgency.
The Nato chief noted that the Afghan security forces did “an outstanding job in securing the elections”, for the first time on their own with only minimal logistical help from Isaf.
“This has truly been an election led by Afghans, secured by Afghans, for the future of Afghans,” he said.
Meanwhile congratulating the Afghans on Saturday’s “historic” polls, President Barack Obama has said the United States look forward to continuing partnership with the new government emerging from the election.
“The United States continues to support a sovereign, stable, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the new government chosen by the Afghan people on the basis of mutual respect and mutual accountability,” he said, after Afghans braved off security threats to cast votes across the landlocked country.
The United States has seen its relationship with President Hamid Karzai strained severely over the unresolved question of Bilateral Security Agreement that it deems necessary to future American engagement with the country after military drawdown later this year.
In the White House statement, Obama said: “On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the millions of Afghans who enthusiastically participated in today’s historic elections, which promise to usher in the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history and which represent another important milestone in Afghans taking full responsibility for their country as the United States and our partners draw down our forces.
“We commend the Afghan people, security forces, and elections officials on the turnout for today’s vote – which is in keeping with the spirited and positive debate among candidates and their supporters in the run-up to the election.
These elections are critical to securing Afghanistan’s democratic future, as well as continued international support, and we look to the Afghan electoral bodies to carry out their duties in the coming weeks to adjudicate the results – knowing that the most critical voices on the outcome are those of Afghans themselves”.
“Today, we also pay tribute to the many Americans- military and civilian – who have sacrificed so much to support the Afghan people as they take responsibility for their own future.”
Meanwhile the presidential election in Afghanistan is a “great achievement”, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said Saturday, as he urged parties to show “patience and respect” during the count.
“This is an historic moment for Afghanistan and its people,” Hague said in a statement.
“It is a great achievement for the Afghan people that so many voters, men and women, young and old, have turned out in such large numbers, despite threats of violence, to have their say in the country’s future.”
“Now that all the votes have been cast, I hope all parties will show patience and respect while the electoral authorities go to work to count and check the ballots, and declare the results,” Hague said.
The second-largest contributor of international forces in Afghanistan after the United States, Britain has 5,200 troops in the country, based at Camp Bastion in Helmand.
Britain handed over command of the southern province to US forces on Tuesday as part of the withdrawal of combat troops, to be completed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei has said that China hopes Afghanistan’s presidential election will be a new start for the country’s unity and stability.
As Afghanistan’s friendly neighbor, China respects the Afghan people’s choice; the Xinhua news agency quoted a statement from Hong Saturday.
Hong observed that China noticed the election was generally smooth.
China hopes relevant sides in Afghanistan will properly handle differences through dialogue so as to realise broad-based and inclusive peace and reconciliation at an early date, said the spokesman.