Although results will not be released for more than a month, organizers of Afghanistan's landmark parliamentary elections are calling Sunday's vote a remarkable success. Ballot boxes are being collected across the country in preparation for the final vote count.
Just hours after polling centers closed, trucks carrying the all-important ballot boxes were already lined up outside the U.N. election center in Kabul.
Inside the compound, election staff members were busy sorting hundreds of the clear plastic boxes and getting ready to count the ballots inside.
Officials say it will take more than a month to collect and count all the ballots from around the rugged and primitive country. But the U.N. worker Peter Erben says early reports indicate that roughly six-million people voted in Sunday's parliamentary and district council elections, including large numbers of women.
More than 12 million had registered, and the turnout was more than a million lower than in last year's presidential election, Afghanistan's first ever democratic balloting. Nevertheless, Mr. Erben said he was pleased with the results "Voters again demonstrated both maturity and dignity by coming out to vote calmly and peacefully," he said.
Observers reported a number of election violations, including attempts to intimidate voters, and in several locations, armed attacks on polling centers. But officials say the attacks, reportedly staged by Taleban insurgents, had little impact on the voting.
Nearly 6,000 candidates were competing for seats in Afghanistan's new national assembly, and on 34 provincial councils.
The election was the final step in the so-called Bonn Agreement, signed by the international community after the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001. The Agreement laid out a broad framework for Afghanistan's transition to a democracy, after a quarter century of invasion, civil war and oppressive governments.
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann is rejecting speculation that the elections could signal an end to Washington's involvement in the country's development.
"The conclusion of the Bonn document is by no means the end of the American commitment. It is not the end of the international commitment," he said. "I see the international community very strongly remaining in Afghanistan."
Mr. Neumann said the international community will likely organize a new donor conference, similar to the one that produced the Bonn Agreement - but this time, in consultation with a freely elected Afghan government.