afghan-ballots-cp-7212006

An election worker carries a ballot box at an election commission office in August. Afghan election officials are eliminating 7,000 polling stations from the August vote because of security concerns. ((Rahmat Gul/Associated Press))

The United Nations began delivering ballots and voting kits across Afghanistan on Thursday in preparation for the Nov. 7 run-off vote in the country's presidential election.

Both Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and his chief political opponent, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have agreed to the run-off vote, which was declared after it was determined Karzai had not won 50 per cent of the vote in the first round of voting in August.

International election monitors called on authorities to curb the widespread fraud that marred the previous vote and led to the invalidation of ballots from thousands of polling stations.

But the upcoming round of voting could potentially face even more logistical difficulties in the insurgency-plagued country.

Of particular concern for election officials both in Afghanistan and abroad is the short turnaround time to organize the vote. August's vote was the result of months of planning, but the run-off vote will need to be organized in little over two weeks.

Many ballots invalidated after review

The challenge is likely to be heightened as the Taliban-led insurgency continues to flex its muscles in some regions of the country and as weather conditions are expected to worsen as winter approaches.

UN spokesman Dan McNorton said Thursday that UN planes were flying the voting kits to provincial capitals, from there to be delivered to thousands of polling stations by helicopter, truck or donkey.

The election will be under the supervision of the Afghan Independent Election Commission, which will itself be under intense scrutiny to avoid the widespread fraud that discredited the initial results of the August vote, which had initially given Karzai 54.6 per cent of the popular vote.

Those results didn't hold up after the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission found evidence of massive fraud during the election, and invalidated ballots from thousands of polling stations. Hundreds of thousands of ballots, including about 200,000 for Abdullah, were discounted because of fraud.

Abdullah said he believed voter turnout would be higher in November.

"In the second round, it will restore the faith of the people in the process" and likely lead to a higher voter turnout, he told CBC News.

More police needed: monitor

A U.S.-based monitor, the National Democratic Institute, said more troops and police will be needed to secure polling stations.

Afghan officials said they would also cut about 7,000 of the 24,000 polling stations they had set up for the August ballot. Some of these stations are in regions too dangerous to protect, while others never opened during the August election, allowing corrupt officials to stuff the ballot boxes.

Meanwhile, NATO defence ministers met in Slovakia on Thursday to discuss the war against insurgents in the region.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged member nations at the meeting to maintain their commitment to the eight-year-old war, saying that despite the losses, "the cost of inaction would be far higher."

With files from The Associated Press