Women used in huge voter fraud in Afghanistan

AFGHAN women massively outnumber male voters in one of the most conservative parts of the country, amid allegations of widespread fraud designed to re-elect the prresident, Hamid Karzai, in next year's polls.

More than 63,000 women have registered to vote in Paktia province, in eastern Afghanistan, against just 42,000 men.

Western officials admit the figures are "completely implausible" given the region's entrenched Pashtun values, which make it difficult for women to register in person.

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"We know the figures are hyped, but no-one is doing anything about it," said one diplomat in Kabul.

Two male voters in Gardez, Paktia's provincial capital, told The Scotsman they were encouraged to register their female relatives in absentia.

"They said I could just give them a list of the women in my family, and they would give me the registration cards," said one, after visiting a registration office in the city centre.

"I could see lists and lists of women's names on the table. They said they were under pressure from Kabul to register lots of women."

Election rules require men and women to register themselves individually. Men have to provide photographs and fingerprints; women must provide fingerprints.

Adrian Edwards, the UN spokesman in Kabul, said: "It's pretty clear in some provinces there has been some registration fraud … But on its own that doesn't translate into election fraud."

The UN has no official oversight role for the registration process, and none of the foreign diplomatic missions are in charge of monitoring it, although Britain is helping bankroll the operation.

Observers fear it is part of a ploy to inflate the number of Pashtuns on the electoral roll.

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Mr Karzai is a Pashtun, as are most of the Taleban. It is Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, and traditionally the country's rulers. However, most Pashtuns live in areas worst affected by the insurgency, and there are fears that fighting could force a low turnout, letting a non-Pashtun win. Such a result would be likely to be deemed unacceptable to large swathes of people who are already disinclined to support the government.

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