NEW YORK - Mounting reports of fraud and intimidation from election monitoring groups are undermining the legitimacy of Afghanistans presidential vote, a major American newspaper reported Sunday. In a dispatch from Kabul, The Wall Street Journal said that the apparently flawed election posed a tough new challenge for the United States and its Western allies. A linchpin of the international communitys strategy here, Thursdays election was supposed to shore up the credibility of the Western-backed Afghan government threatened by a spreading Taliban insurgency, the newspaper said. Rolling back Taliban advances and reinvigorating Afghanistans development are the key goals of President Barack Obamas administration, which has poured tens of thousands of additional US troops into the country in recent months. But now, as rivals of President Hamid Karzai allege widespread ballot-stuffing in his favour, the poll may have produced some unintended consequences. Allegations of fraud could end up eroding Afghanistans stability, fracturing the part of the Afghan society thats opposed to the Taliban - and making it even more difficult to contain the insurgency, say those tracking the election. Both President Karzai and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have staked conflicting claims of victory. Both maintain they have won an absolute majority of votes, in an election contested by dozens of candidates. Afghanistans electoral commission, which Dr Abdullah accuses of siding with the incumbent, President Karzai, has refused to release partial results. The initial vote count isnt expected until Tuesday at the earliest, and it will be weeks before the final result is known. Should any of the candidates fail to win an outright majority, a runoff is supposed to be held sometime in October. Shortly after Afghan polls closed last week, President Obama hailed what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan despite the Talibans effort to disrupt it. However, international observers inside Afghanistan have since provided a much more guarded endorsement, as reports of irregularities have trickled in from the field. The National Democratic Institute, which had more than 100 observers in Afghanistan, has highlighted serious flaws and said that merely aspects of the election were in accordance with democratic principles. Democracy International, another American observer group, cautioned that its too early to judge whether the election is credible, and urged Afghanistans electoral commission to conduct a fair and transparent vote count. The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, an independent monitoring group that dispatched nearly 7,000 observers to the polls, has found many instances of ballot stuffing and biased election workers across the country, said its director Jandad Spingar. Any attempts to deny the full extent of the flaws in this election would only serve to further disenfranchise the Afghan electorate, cautioned Rachel Reid, the Afghanistan-based researcher for HRW. Senior US officials acknowledge that conspiracy theories are already swirling through the country. There are always rumours in Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Sunday in the Afghan city of Herat. Weve had disputed elections in the Unites States, and there may be some questions here. That wouldnt surprise me at all. The criticism is prompting a bout of soul-searching among Western officials whose governments provide the indispensable military and financial backing to Karzais administration, WSJ reported. Complaints about electoral fraud centre on the insurgency-wracked south and eastern parts of the country, where many polling stations were empty because of Taliban attacks and threats to punish anyone who dared to vote. Daoud Ali Najafi, the chief electoral officer of Afghanistans election commission, confirmed Sunday that there was low turnout in these provinces with high security threats, and said that a nationwide estimate of 50 per cent participation in the election would be optimistic. In the Wardak province south of Kabul, officials said that nearly all polling centres outside of district capitals had to be closed due to the violence, the dispatch said. In Uruzgan province, only six out of 36 female polling centres opened, according to FEFA. The group said its observers witnessed the Taliban in the Kandahar province cut off the fingers of two voters. (Voters fingers in Afghanistan are marked with indelible ink.) All these areas are predominantly Pashtun, and have traditionally been a stronghold of President Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun himself. Low turnout by the Pashtuns is likely to bolster Dr Abdullah, who is more popular in the ethnic Tajik northern and western parts of Afghanistan. Dr Abdullah said over the weekend that Taliban violence which has driven voters and international observers away from the polls in the south has made it easier to stuff ballot boxes with fictitious votes in favour of the incumbent. Dr. Abdullah added told WSJ that only big rigging could prevent him from securing an absolute majority. Hamed Elmi, a Karzai spokesperson, denied these allegations and said that the Abdullah campaign was guilty of vote-rigging itself. Yet, findings of some independent observers appear in line with Dr. Abdullahs claims, the paper said. According to a confidential report made by members of one US observer mission, ballot boxes from Kandahar and the Spin Boldak areas in the south - some of the worst insurgency flashpoints - are arriving at the electoral commission offices filled with 500 to 600 ballots each, indications of an exceptionally high turnout that doesnt square with eyewitness accounts of deserted polling stations. Despite his complaints, Dr. Abdullah said that he still retains faith in Afghanistans electoral process, which requires the results to be vetted by the Electoral Complaints Commission, an independent body presided by a Canadian officer, Grant Kippen. Kippen said Sunday that his commission has already received 225 complaints about instances of voter intimidation, violence, ballot box tampering and interference by Afghan election commission officials. Among these complaints, 35 have been assigned a high priority status, he said, because they were deemed to be material to the outcome of the election results.