Amid mounting allegations of fraud in last week's presidential election, Afghan officials pledged Monday to provide preliminary results of the vote today.
However, the partial tally and turnout figures, to be based on reports from about three-quarters of the 6,500 polling stations, may serve to inflame rather than ease tensions. Some observers fear the disclosure of a preliminary tally could set off clashes between rival camps.
Aides to the two leading contenders, President Hamid Karzai and his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, each have said they have independent information suggesting their candidate is in the lead. Their campaigns, along with those of several other candidates, also have complained vociferously of vote-rigging and intimidation.
Abdullah has said repeatedly that if Karzai is found to have won a majority of the vote, which the Afghan leader would need for an outright victory, it would be the result of fraud. If no candidate garners more than 50%, the race will go to a runoff between the top two vote-getters.
In recent days, outside observers have stopped short of describing the vote as unfair but have expressed serious concern about factors such as the low turnout in some parts of Afghanistan, the stifling of women's participation, reports of ballot-box stuffing and complaints that, in some locales, gunmen ordered people to vote for a particular candidate.
Senior Western officials appeared to be backing away from initial characterizations of the election as successful based mainly on the fact that, after weeks of threats and attacks, the Taliban proved unable to halt or seriously disrupt Thursday's vote.
Kai Eide, head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said holding the election in relative safety had been an "important achievement," but he appealed to all sides for patience while independent monitors investigated fraud allegations.
"There's no doubt that there have been irregularities during polling," Eide said Monday.
There was also discord between the bodies set up to conduct and monitor the vote.
At a news conference Monday, Zekria Barakzai, the deputy head of the government-appointed Independent Election Commission, denied that complaints lodged with monitors so far were numerous enough and serious enough to affect the overall outcome.
A day earlier, the Electoral Complaints Commission, which will certify the vote after checking reports of irregularities, said about four dozen of the hundreds of complaints it had received were serious enough to affect the outcome if the allegations contained in them were true.
At the same time, some outside observers have cast doubt on the independence of the election commission -- given that it was appointed by Karzai -- saying its officials at times acted in a way that gave the incumbent an unfair advantage.
The vote ushered in what could be weeks of political uncertainty. A final tally is not expected to be certified until mid- to late September, and a runoff, if there is one, would be held in October.
The weeks leading up to the election were violent, exacting a heavy toll in both civilian and military lives. On Monday, Western military officials disclosed the deaths of three more coalition troops, one of them an American who died in an attack Sunday. The U.S. military death toll in Afghanistan has reached 168 so far this year, according to the independent website icasualties.org.
The other two were Estonians, killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan's dangerous south.