The Afghan elections have once again been tainted by allegations of fraud. The turnout had been low after widespread violence by Taliban who targeted all key areas of poll. Western analysts have praised the more than four million Afghans who took part in Saturdays election but, if you believe this figure, you have to compare it with the claims of 4.8 million votes cast in the presidential poll last year. Election observers said polling day was rife with complaints of delayed polling opening, intimidation, allowing of ineligible voters and misuse of registration cards. Proxy voting, poor quality marking ink and shortages of ballot papers are some of the other complaints we hear. The election commission is still compiling reports of irregularities including ballot-stuffing. The Afghan elections would most certainly affect the future course of relations with neighbouring Pakistan. The Afghan internal situation is precarious, marred mostly by lack of state capacity particularly in the ambit of security. Taliban are the most potent reality in rural areas of provinces and are now beginning to acquire urban access too. Corruption, drugs and political instability are important challenges that continue to make headlines even in the western media. A new factor that had added to public anxiety and distress pertains to what has been cited in a report of the Washington Post. According to the WP report, military documents and interviews with people involved in the case show a group of rogue US soldiers had formed a 'killer team in Afghanistan that had randomly killed civilians here for sport. That has tarnished the image of occupation forces a lot. Afghanistans security is also complicated by shared borders with Iran which has emerged as a state with patriotic leadership prepared to confront the Afghan occupiers. The western problem is particularly severe with the Iranian nuclear program which it views with great suspicion. The American coalition in Afghanistan also tends to view Iran as a theocratic state that does not subscribe to the concepts of democracy. Among other countries in the region, Pakistan is the most important, the only Muslim country of world possessing nuclear weapons. It is currently mired in problems of its own with its military resources overstretched in security and relief work especially after the recent floods. Pakistan economy is also in poor shape and the writ of state very weak, particularly in the two western provinces. Political wrangling, social turmoil, poor governance, corruption, injustice and deteriorating law and order situation stifle the potential of this great nation. So India has emerged as the regional power the US can do business with. The Indo-US strategic partnership is a source of concern for Pakistan, though. India is acquiring influence in Afghanistan and deploying a multitude of covert assets on Afghan soil with a view, ostensibly, to destabilize Pakistan. The superpower of the region, China, is the largest trading partner of America. But Chinese, want peace and stability in the region and that is why they resent US presence here. Further up, the Central Asian Republics are a factor in Afghanistan also because of their ethnic links and long historic ties with the Afghan populace. But these breakaway former-Soviet states are in a state of flux, especially Kirghizstan. This is the environment in the region which presents innumerable challenges to Afghanistan and Pakistan. -ESCHMALL SARDAR, Peshawar, September 21.