United Nations officials say elections in Afghanistan will probably have to be postponed, because too few voters have registered. A target date of June had been set for the vote, but security fears have forced curtailment of a voter registration campaign.
Given the almost daily outbreaks of violence in Afghanistan, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard says it looks like it will impossible to hold presidential and legislative elections less than six months from now.
"The target date of June now appears out of reach," he said. "That's the news of today, given the rate of registration so far and the continuing security concerns."
Mr. Eckhard says registration is proceeding in Afghanistan's eight main cities. But dangerous conditions make it impossible for voter outreach teams to travel to rural areas.
Of 10 million eligible voters, fewer than 275,000 have signed up.
The spokesman also expressed concern about the relatively small number of women among those registering.
"More than 215,000 of those are men, under 60,000 are women," said Fred Eckhard.
U.N. officials say security is the main concern, but other factors also contribute to what may be a lengthy delay in voting. For one thing, there are no laws setting the rules for an election, and there is a lack of clear electoral boundaries.
In a report issued this week, Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that the peace process in Afghanistan has reached a critical juncture. He says security has deteriorated at a time when just the opposite is needed.
Several foreign aid groups - including the United Nations - have scaled back operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan after a series of attacks on staff and facilities.