Millions voted in Thursday's poll, despite Taliban attacks
As millions of Afghans wait for the country's election commission to announce preliminary results from Thursday's presidential election, regional media consider the challenges facing the future president and the possible implications of the outcome for foreign troops deployed there.
While some commentators described the vote as an important step for the democratic development of the country, others suggested that whatever the outcome, Afghanistan's fate would continue to be decided by foreign powers.
Many commentators expressed concern that the unrelenting violence in Kabul and elsewhere could seriously derail the democratic process.
The election "was held amid incessant Taliban attacks" which "demonstrated the authorities' inability to control the situation in a large part of the country," wrote Olga Allenova in Russia's Kommersant.
"It cannot be ruled out that the vote may be declared invalid in a number of provinces, in which case the authorities will either have to give up the plans to hold the election in those regions, or open talks with the Taliban," she suggested.
But writing in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Vladislav Vorobyev speculated that "the Kabul massacre" could play into the hands of Nato commanders by giving them an excuse to send more troops to the country.
"It cannot be ruled out that this is what the Nato military commanders have been hoping for... They need a strong argument in favour of increasing their military presence in Afghanistan."
"The twin rocket attacks of August 18 in Kabul were mere grim reminders of the security challenges facing Afghanistan," wrote Shanthie Mariet De Souza in India's newspaper Deccan Chronicle, who went on to describe the election as "crucial for the Afghan people, the international community and India."
Other commentators took a more positive view.
Pakistan's Dawn said the challenge facing the Afghan people was "to forge their peace process and rebuild their nation after 30 years of bloodshed."
Two main candidates have claimed they are leading in the polls
"That elections being held in Afghanistan today is perhaps more important than their outcome," said the New Delhi-based Indian Express. However, the paper added that the conduct of the poll would reveal "whether Kabul's current regime and the international community can prevent political regression in Afghanistan, stabilise it, and create a reasonable basis for progress in a nation that has seen nothing but war and conflict for more than three decades."
"Given Afghanistan's long history of civil war, it's encouraging that political competition is being redirected towards the ballot box rather than played out through gunfire and bomb blasts," wrote The Times of India.
"Democracy, like Rome, can't be built in a day, but it's the only long-term vaccine that can deliver Afghanistan from instability and chaos," it said.
This view was echoed by Sami Kohen in Turkey's Milliyet, who wrote that holding an election in a country "which is regarded as one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, has no democratic culture and is continuously a scene for violent activities, is still an important political event".
However, the author added that there was "serious suspicion" about the election conduct.
Writing in Pakistan's The Frontier Post, Naqib Ullah Wardak noted that despite the fact that many Afghans see corruption as the most important problem facing their country, "bringing security and peace" remained the biggest challenge.
The Taliban factor
Pakistan's The Nation worried that any controversy over turnout and fraud allegations could play into the hands of the Taliban.
"The Afghans are fed up with a regime known for corruption and incapable of tackling the country's many problems, such as the opium trade and low economic development," the daily said.
"Any elections marred by rigging or controversy over turnout would cause further violence and strengthen the Taliban."
The Russian paper Vremya Novostey felt that many other countries would welcome a victory for the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, for the sake of continuity.
Mr Karzai "is building a system of geopolitical counterbalance," the paper argued, adding that "from this point of view, his victory may suit Paris, Beijing, Islamabad and Moscow."
Several regional papers expressed doubt that Afghans alone would decide their country's future.
Pakistan's The News wrote that "whichever way the poll goes, the outcome will be influenced as much by external as internal factors, for it is the eternal fate of Afghanistan to be of interest to a range of nations beyond its borders."
New Delhi-based Asian Age also stressed the role that other countries play in Afghan politics.
"The elections are a test of the Af-Pak strategy of the Obama administration, given that the troop surge was intended to enable civilians to participate in the election process and, in a way, to blunt the insurgent campaign of intimidation and violent retribution," the paper said.
And a commentator in Hong Kong's Asia Times took the line that it mattered little who emerged as the victor. "Who cares who the winner is?" Pepe Escobar wrote. "Afghanistan will be ruled by Barack Hussein Obama anyway."
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