The Dangerous Road to Democracy: With Only Days to Go before the Afghan Presidential Elections Are Scheduled to Take Place, Additional Waves of Violence Are Predicted as the Taliban and Assorted Warlords Strive to Scupper Plans to Establish a Strong Democracy. Peter Willems Reports from Kabul

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IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO FIND AN Afghan citizen enthusiastic about the upcoming presidential elections. "Now we are able to register to vote, we will be able to decide on our fate," said Ahmed Khalid, an Afghan holding his new registration card at a UN registration site on the outskirts of the capital city of Kabul. "I believe electing a government will give us what we have wanted for a long time."

The presidential elections, scheduled to be held on 9 October, will be the first full scale democratic ballot conducted since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001. A quarter-of-a-century of ongoing warfare has prevented Afghans from voting for over 30 years.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) in Afghanistan, responsible for registering voters and preparing the electoral process, has--despite the considerable instability that prevails--successfully registered voters in all 34 provinces. At the beginning of August, the joint UN-Afghan electoral authority had been able to register more than 9m out of a total of 10m eligible voters, with women accounting for more than 41%.

But serious concerns remained. President Hamid Karzai has postponed elections twice, and although the presidential elections are slated for 9 October, parliamentary elections have been pushed back to April 2005.

The delays have mostly been the result of escalating violence. Some 900 people have been killed in the last 12 months, and those working to prepare the elections have also been under attack.

The president's mid-September decision to dismiss Ismail Khan as governor of Herat resulted in demonstrations, an arson attack and the death of at least seven of his supporters.

Since May 2004, up to a dozen election workers have been killed and in June, Taliban guerillas kidnapped and executed 17 Afghan men carrying voter registration cards.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for most of these attacks, which it hopes will destabilise the country and derail the elections. Government sources also believe that militia leaders, now in control of vast areas outside the capital, and druglords, profiting from Afghanistan's increased opium production, will be involved in attacks to maintain instability.

Some question whether or not the country is safe enough to hold elections. "The JEMB has repeatedly expressed its concern about security during the voter registration process and also during the election period itself," said Said Mohammad Azam, JEMB's media relations officer. "We have called for provisions of better security where voters, candidates and electoral officials feel safe."

While the US continues to help beef up the government's forces, the Afghan National Army (ANA) currently has less than 9,000 troops. At a conference in Istanbul last June, Nato leaders promised an additional 1,500 troops to supplement the 6,500-member Nato force, stationed mainly in Kabul. A further 2,000 Nato soldiers will be kept on standby.

However, Afghan officials are not happy with the number of reinforcements the peacekeeping force has agreed to make available. "This is not sufficient. We expect more," said Zahir Azimy, spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Defence. …