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Pain of stain for Indian ink

Kabul, Oct. 11: India's biggest contribution to the elections in Afghanistan ' finger markers that were meant to distinguish those who voted in the October 9 poll from those who did not ' is changing the discourse in this embattled nation from a debate on security to a debate over ink.

The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body today decided to set up a commission with three independent members recommended by the world body. The panel will investigate the charges that the hustings had run aground because the indelible ink was tampered with.

The UN has nominated Craig Jenness, a former Canadian diplomat, and Staffan Darnolf, a Swedish poll specialist, who have experience in 'post-conflict' elections to study charges that the polls were unfair. The third member of the panel will be named shortly.

A successful election in Afghanistan would be billed a victory in the US global war on terrorism that began with Operation Enduring Freedom on an early October day like this three years ago. But 14 of 16 candidates in the fray threatened to oppose the election with complaints on the indelible ink that even Zalmay Khalilzad, the US diplomat who is said to be a sort of pro-consul, admits were 'widespread'.

The indelible ink marker pens ' some 50,000 were supplied for the elections ' are from Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd.

The investigation will look into several aspects of the issue, including whether the ink was faulty or whether it was incorrectly used because of lack of training to election staff. The company said today that Afghan officials could have mixed up pens meant for marking ballots and fingers.

But even as the investigation is just being ordered, authorities are working extra hard to play down the ramifications of the charges.

'Look at it this way,' Khalilzad said this evening, 'these are things that could happen even in mature democracies.' Sure enough, neither Madhepura in Bihar nor Florida in the US is immune to charges of poll malpractices.

Khalilzad said he had met former Afghan education minister and one of President Hamid Karzai's more prominent challengers, Yunus Qanooni, this afternoon. Qanooni, among those who had refused to accept the election after the row over ink, said tonight that he was withdrawing the boycott call.

Khalilzad said he had reason to believe that Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, expected in Kabul tomorrow, will also come around.

'I have met other (candidates) earlier as well. I expect the call for making the polls null and void will be removed,' Khalilzad said.

At the Joint Electoral Management Body, director David Avery said it would still not be possible to announce exactly when the counting of ballots will begin. But it would be taken up after the report of the international panel is reviewed.

An exit poll by a US think tank has said Karzai would win well over the 50 per cent needed to avoid a run-off.

 

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