Printers in the Pakistani city of Peshawar say they have produced thousands of fake voter registration cards at the request of Afghan politicians for use in that country's parliamentary election on Saturday.
The cards, some shown to The Associated Press, add to evidence that fraud could undermine the elections and further destabilize the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
A fraud-marred presidential election last year threatened the credibility of the Afghan administration at home and with the Western nations waging war on the country's resurgent Taliban.
Regulation of voting has been improved, but an influx of fake cards raises the possibility of a person with multiple voter cards voting many times and could still cause problems in an insecure country where monitoring of polling stations will likely be spotty.
Three printers in a dimly lit section of Peshawar's Storytellers' Bazaar told AP that Afghan election candidates had travelled to the walled heart of the ancient city about an hour from the border and provided them with samples of Afghan voter registration cards.
The printers said they had produced thousands of cards, along with plastic sheaths to laminate them, for roughly 20 rupees (23 cents) apiece.
The fakes shown to AP resembled genuine Afghan cards, but it was not clear if they would withstand close scrutiny.
Two of the printers spoke on condition of anonymity because the activity is illegal. Tariq Khan, a 32-year-old printer, told AP that times were tough for printers in Peshawar, and he had accepted the registration card requests because it was more profitable than ordinary work.
'Several candidates from various parts of Afghanistan have purchased these cards.' —Peshawar printer
"Several candidates from various parts of Afghanistan have purchased these cards," he said. "Now it is their headache how they use them."
Afghan election officials say they have instituted safeguards that will keep falsified cards from being used. These include marking voters' fingers with indelible ink, searching voters to make sure they are not carrying multiple cards and checking to make sure they are old enough to vote.
"If the individual is not eligible, despite the fact of a card, we will certainly not allow the person to cast his or her ballot," said Abdullah Ahmadzai, the chief electoral officer of the Independent Election Commission, which organizes the ballot.
Gul Wali, 40, an Afghan citizen who said he was a supporter of a candidate he declined to identify, said he had heard that some candidates were using fake cards to drive up votes, driving him to do the same.
"Why we should stick to fairness while our opponents use these means and tactics?" he said. "I am not sure we will be able to use these cards or not, but as a precaution I am thinking of buying some 1,500 cards."
He said fake cards were available in Afghanistan but at higher prices than in Peshawar. Khan also said the cards were being printed in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Pakistan.
"There are a few black sheep involved in such illegal business," said Zafar Khattak, president of Peshawar's printers' association. "Unfortunately, the laws are so ineffective that whenever a printer gets arrested for printing illegal material, he is freed on bail after 10 or 15 days and never gets punished."