A US-based rights group raised concern on Tuesday that elections in Afghanistan this week could be compromised by low turnout, violence, fraud and intimidation.
Seventeen million voters go to the polls on Thursday to elect a president for the second time in Afghanistan's history. They will also elect 420 councilors in 34 provinces, in a huge logistical operation handicapped by insecurity.
"Violence, plans to use irregular security forces at polling stations, unequal access of candidates to state media, and conditions affecting women are of particular concern," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, is the front-runner but a strong campaign by former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah could force a run-off.
Between April 25 and August 1, there were at least 13 political-related killings and at least 10 abductions of electoral officials, candidates and campaign workers, the New York-based watchdog said.
HRW said security in Afghanistan was "considerably worse" than during the last elections in 2004 and 2005, and raised concerns over government plans to recruit up to 10,000 "community defence forces" in areas where insecurity and insufficient police and army mean polling stations might not open.