The official election website on Wednesday showed former regional commanders, a former Taliban commander and women's activists among the frontrunners set to win seats in the 249 Wolesi Jirga, or National Assembly.

Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the joint UN-Afghan election body, said the first few provisional results from provinces were expected on Thursday.

Results will be announced in phases in an attempt to prevent potential unrest. Final certified results are due on 22 October.

Bombing

Meanwhile, suspected Taliban fighters, who failed to stop 6.8 million Afghans from voting on 18 September, have resumed attacks.

Over 1000 people have died in
Taliban-linked violence this year

On Wednesday, a car bomb exploded near a convoy of Canadian troops on the outskirts of the southern city of Kandahar, killing the suspected bomber and an Afghan boy.

Three Canadian soldiers suffered minor burns from the blast on a road near their camp.

"From our initial information, it looks like it was a suicide bomber inside the vehicle," Canadian military spokesman Captain Francois Giroux said.

He said the vehicle was driving slowly in the opposite direction to the Canadian convoy when the bombing happened.

Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid said the blast killed a boy about 10 years old, and badly hurt an Afghan man. Both of them were riding past in a tractor when the bomb went off.

Khalid suspected the Taliban or al-Qaida was behind the attack, but said investigators had not yet established the bomber's identity.

The blast comes a day after six Afghan civilians were killed in a bombing in the far south of Kandahar province at the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan.

More US troops

More than 1000 people, mostly fighters but including more than 50 US soldiers, have been killed in Taliban-linked violence in Afghanistan this year, the bloodiest period since US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

Nato's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Tuesday that the military alliance planned to deploy 6000 additional troops when it expands its peacekeeping mission into the south next year, a move that could free up thousands of troops from a separate US-led coalition force to hunt the Taliban.

Vote-counting

Siddique said vote-counting finished on Tuesday, except for ballot boxes that were quarantined because of suspicions of
fraud - pending a review in each case by the election body on whether those votes should be declared invalid.

The top-ranking candidates in most provinces are regional commanders or leaders of mujahidin factions, many active in the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s and the ruinous 1992-96 civil war that followed.

But there are plenty of new faces. Among the expected
winners is 27-year-old Malalai Joya, a women's rights activist, who rose to prominence for daring to denounce powerful regional commanders at a post-Taliban constitutional convention two years ago.

Women candidates are reserved a quarter of all seats.

Karzai rival Younus Qanooni (R)
is one of those leading in Kabul

Three former Taliban government ministers have fared badly, so far winning only a few hundred votes each.

But in insurgency-plagued Zabul province, a former Taliban military commander, Abdul Salaam Rocketi, who earned his last name for his skill in firing rockets, is leading.

Other likely winners include former president Burhanuddin
Rabbani, who led Afghanistan during the civil war, former communists, academics, doctors, journalists, Muslim clerics and an elder brother of US-backed President Hamid Karzai.

In the capital, the two chief rivals to Karzai in last year's presidential election - Mohammed Mohaqeq and Younus
Qanooni - are leading.

US hails arrest

US-led forces in Afghanistan expressed gratitude to Pakistan on Wednesday for arresting main Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi in Baluchistan province bordering Afghanistan.

"Pakistan continues to be a strong ally in the fight against terrorism," said spokesman Colonel Jim Yonts.

"It should not be overlooked that Pakistan's aggressive pursuit of al-Qaida and terrorist movements has led to the capture of more enemy combatants than any other country fighting the war on terror." 

Afghan and US officials have repeatedly complained in the past about Islamabad's failure to act against Taliban officials they say have been operating from Pakistan, despite its status as a key ally in the US-led "war on terror".