KABUL - Afghanistan on Saturday expanded the registration of new voters to more insecure rural areas ahead of a landmark presidential election next year.  The registrations, which had already begun in cities, expanded to around 400 centres in all 34 provinces for those who have turned 18, have previously not registered or have lost their voter cards.

“We are going according to our timetable, and today we are launching the second phase of voter registration,” Fazel Ahmad Manawi, head of Independent Elections Commission (IEC), told reporters in Kabul.

“As part of the plan, 399 voter registration centres, mostly in districts and villages, will open today, and this is in addition to 41 already opened in May,” he said. The registration materials have already been sent to the centres both by land and air, he said.

In May, the IEC started registering new voters for the 2014 elections opening 41 centres in primarily urban areas and registering around 130,000 new voters so far.

Four million names are expected to be added to the electoral roll, currently containing 16 million voters, before polls in April 2014, though many Afghans fear that the date could be delayed due to the threat of attack by the Taliban insurgency.

“Although we are optimistic about elections, since Afghanistan’s situation is well known to everyone, we do expect problems,” Manawi said.

Kaker in Zabul, Nawa in Ghazni, Deshu and Baghran in Helmand are districts that are not under government control and hence the registration materials have not been sent there, he said.

“If the security does not improve in those districts, we will use adjacent centres to register voters,” he said.

The presidential race slated for April 2014 is seen as a crucial step towards a legitimate government that will take over when President Hamid Karzai relinquishes power.

Karzai is constitutionally barred from running in elections after serving two terms.

The election is also seen as a key test of the success of US-led international military intervention since the Taliban regime fell in 2001.

It also remains a key test for around 350,000 Afghan security forces who have recently taken the full security responsibility from NATO, as the force completes its withdrawal next year.