Afghan officials are combining old and new methods to deliver ballots and voting boxes to remote villages ahead of the April 5 presidential election.
More than 3,000 donkeys and burros have been enlisted to carry ballot materials to the most inaccessible, mountainous pockets of Badakhshan, Nooristan, Ghazni, Konar, and other provinces.
"We have rented the animals from local villagers and will return them to the owners after the election," says Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission.
The pack animals will transport ballots back to district centers for the vote count once the voting process is over, the official says.
The owners were told the animals would be borrowed again if the election went into a second-round runoff.
"The delivery of the ballots and boxes to polling stations takes place in three stages," Noor says.
"First, we use planes and trucks to carry them from Kabul to provincial capitals; the second stage involves the delivery to district centers; and the final stage is to take them to each polling station."
The Afghan Defense Ministry has deployed dozens of helicopters to deliver the ballots to 49 districts that trucks and lorries can't access.
The ministry said today it had not yet been able to transport ballots to 10 remote districts due to unfavorable weather. The ministry hoped to complete the delivery as soon as possible to leave enough time for the animals to carry the ballots to remote villages.
Nearly 28,500 polling centers and smaller polling stations have been set up across Afghanistan.
But at least 10 percent of them are expected to be closed due to security threats from the Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election.
The militants have staged numerous attacks on election offices and election workers in the run-up to the poll.
Noor says that "fortunately, we haven't had any instance of a militant attack on animals transporting the ballots."
The authorities say more than 350,000 troops will be deployed to provide security during the vote.
-- Farangis Najibullah