By Emma Graham-Harrison
KABUL, May 3 (Reuters) - Afghan men are illegally collecting voter cards in the names of women, raising worries about fraud in the upcoming presidential election, the head of Afghanistan’s human rights commission said on Sunday.
In Logar province which borders Kabul, nearly three-quarters of those who registered as voters were women, a suspiciously high ratio, said Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
"The men are just bringing the names of a woman and getting registration cards on their behalf and that is why I can say there is a possibility of fraud," Samar told a news conference in the Afghan capital.
The Aug. 20 presidential election, in which incumbent Hamid Karzai looks set to be the strongest candidate, is seen as a litmus test of the success of nearly a decade of international intervention in Afghanistan.
A Taliban-linked insurgency is gaining strength across the south and east of the country. Thousands of additional U.S. troops are arriving this year to try and regain the upper hand as part of President Barack Obama’s new strategy for the region.
Suspiciously high levels of female registration, in areas where women are often reluctant to travel, has also been noted in Paktika, Paktia and Khost provinces, as well as across parts of the south, Samar said.
"The person registering should be there in person to take their card, and photos should be taken and fingerprints taken, and if that is not applied, it means that the officials who are in the registration site are corrupt," she said.
Samar added she feared voters holding multiple cards might be able to cast a string of ballots before getting a finger marked with the indelible ink which is supposed to prevent fraud.
The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide said the apparent corruption in handing out voter registration cards to men was a concern, but he hoped strong election standards would prevent anyone with a fake card from abusing it in the poll.
"Of course we are worried about the irregularities, but ... there is still a possibility to correct much of this on polling day," he told Reuters.
"Much more than last time our focus will be on what happens there at the polling station. We know that during the last election there was rather serious fraud at that level on polling day and immediately afterwards, and that is what the system we are trying to put in place now is intended to minimise." (Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Sophie Hares)