Afghanistan's presidential election on August 20 was marred by rigging and hit by a violent Taliban campaign that has been blamed for keeping turnout below 40 per cent.

The Taliban threatened to behead any voter who dared to visit polling booths, although there were no reported beheadings during or after the election.

Afghans will be voting again after Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, agreed earlier this week to a second round runoff against Abdullah Abdullah, his main rival, following fraud investigations by the UN.

'Mullah Omar's orders'

Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said that Taliban fighters had been ordered by their senior leaders to block roads to polling stations.

"Our sources tell us Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, has instructed his commanders to block roads leading to polling stations a day before the election, and has called for a stepped-up campaign of violence against international forces," our correspondent said.

The Taliban threat came a day after the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan said he believed  the runoff would run more smoothly than the first round.

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"It is reasonable to hope that there will be [fewer] irregularities this time, for several reasons," Richard Holbrooke said.

"One - there are only two candidates; two - there is the experience factor," he said, referring to the Afghan people's prior experience of casting votes in August.

"Three - the international community, including the forces under General [Stanley] McChrystal's command are going to go all out to help make this a success. Now, [those forces] did so on August 20, but there are more forces in the country today."

But our correspondent said the campaigns had got off to a lacklustre start.

"[There're no] no major plans afoot from either camp," Hull said.

"Questions raised about that suggest that possibly there is some inertia inside these two campaigns - trying to grease the wheels to get going all over again.

"Some [are] suggesting that they're [Karzai and Abdullah] simply having a hard time trying to figure out where they need to concentrate their campaign with so little time to do it.

"And, of course, there is additional speculation that perhaps the two camps are talking to each other, still trying to come up with some sort of a coalition deal that might avoid the need for a second round altogether.

"But that seems unlikely - Dr Abdullah has come out saying there is no way he wants to sit with the Karzai goverment which he left three and a half years ago."

'Correct' relationship

Karzai remains besieged, with speculation growing that his relationship with Holbrooke has deteriorated since the August poll. 

But Holbrooke insisted he had respect for Karzai and that he was ready to work with him if the Afghan president is re-elected.

"They [relations with Karzai] are correct. They are appropriate," Holbrooke said.

The Taliban said those voting in the runoff and are hurt will have themselves to blame [AFP]
"I speak to him on behalf of my government and he speaks as president of the country. I respect him and, if he is re-elected as president on November 7, we all look forward to working closely with him."

Nick Spicer, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Washington, said: "I think most of the world considered the Afghan elections to have been tainted by fraud - and Holbrooke said there had been a lot of 'drama' over the last few weeks.

Holbrooke's comments on his links with Karzai would do little to convince those who say that the two do not share a close relationship, he said.

"Holbrooke was almost more eloquent in his silence - he did not say that Karzai was a great guy and that there were really warm and cordial relations," our correspondent said.

"There was no feeling that this veteran diplomat, who is known for his back-slapping and being friendly with all kinds of leaders - including unsavoury characters, if that is what was needed to broker a deal - there was none of that today."