Crisis in Afghan elections and Karzai sticking in but Obama to decide what’s best for the US

Cartoon Hamid-KarzaiThe election commission is “going to act on the orders of the president (Karzai),” said the Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “The worst thing you could have is the president to reject the process that the international community has been hailing.” (The Washington Post)

The spokesman for Mr. Karzai’s campaign, Wahid Omar, denied that Mr. Karzai was rejecting the outcome of the audit but said that the campaign was concerned that the process was “being overshadowed by political discussions.” “We will not be committed to a result that is decided on politically,” Mr. Omar said. (The New York Times)

The war in Afghanistan entered its ninth year this month, with U.S. commanders acknowledging that the 100,000-strong U.S.-led international contingent and Afghan security forces are at risk of losing. A recent U.S. intelligence assessment estimated that there now are at least 25,000 full-time Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan, 20 percent more than there were a year ago. (McClatchy)

“I think that we have taken into account every possible outcome as we have engaged in our strategic analysis,” Mrs. Clinton said during an interview with CNN. Mrs. Clinton also said that Mr. Obama will “make a decision on his own timetable, when he is absolutely comfortable with what he believes is in the best interest of the United States.” (CNN)

Armed riots threatened as Karzai scorns election inquiry

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has threatened to ignore the findings of an investigation into widespread fraud that made it appear he had won an election victory over his rival in August.

The country’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) had been due to announce yesterday that Karzai’s share of the ballots was being cut from 54.6% to about 47% as a result of the inquiry, triggering a second round of voting. But the announcement was delayed amid diplomatic efforts to convince Karzai to abide by the decision.

Karzai insists that he should be declared the outright winner and has dismissed reports of widespread fraud as “totally fabricated” and “politically motivated”.

In a bleak assessment to foreign ambassadors in Kabul last night the head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, warned that the situation was “very tense”.

“He was encouraging the ambassadors to get their foreign ministers to call up Karzai and underline the importance of sticking to the constitution and accepting the ECC’s decision,” said an insider at the meeting.

The American senator John Kerry met the president for the second time in two days to emphasise “the need for a legitimate outcome”, an embassy official said. French diplomats said a surprise visit by their foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was also intended to defuse “tension created by the repeated delays in announcing the election results”.

Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has telephoned Karzai twice in seven days, while Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state, spoke to him late on Friday night.

The final results have been delayed for more than eight weeks while investigators wade through more than 3,000 allegations of fraud, including almost 900 deemed serious enough to alter the result.

Karzai’s aides claim the West is trying to change the outcome to be unfavourable to him. Diplomats fear that if he rejects the ECC’s findings, opposition supporters will riot and the country could be paralysed.

Supporters of Abdullah Abdullah, the main opposition candidate, have threatened to hit the streets “with Kalashnikovs” if the president claims a victory in the first round. Both men still insist that they will never work together but their rhetoric has softened following the arrival of Zalmay Khalilzad, a former American ambassador to the UN, to negotiate. Some western officials believe a “programme of national consensus” may emerge, in which Abdullah’s ideas are incorporated into government policy even if he does not join a coalition.

The ECC is expected to order the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which ran the election, to annul thousands of votes because of fraud. But western officials said the IEC was “frantically searching the electoral law” to avoid this.

“It’s outrageous,” said a British official involved in the process. “Those orders are not optional.”

A UN spokesman said more than 200 district officials were being replaced because of “corruption and incompetence” in the first round.

In one district tribal elders have claimed that a brother of the president forged 23,900 votes after closing their polling stations and confiscating their ballot boxes.

Preparations are under way for a second round. But the onset of winter means the first week of next month is the latest date a run-off could be held. “I think we’ll get a deal between the two candidates before we get to a run-off,” said a senior western election monitor.

Afghanistan faces possible election run-off

A UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission had been due to release the results of a recount on Saturday that Western diplomats believe will deprive Mr Karzai of enough votes to indicate a run-off with Abdullah Abdullah, his main rival.

However, delays in publishing the investigation’s findings stoked concerns among diplomats that Mr Karzai may use his influence over a separate Independent Election Commission, which must certify any final results, to block any attempt to deprive him of outright victory.

Those concerns will be heightened by comments from Zekria Barakzai, the deputy chief electoral officer at the IEC, who warned that it might be impossible to hold a run-off due to the threat of Taliban attacks and the encroaching winter. The IEC’s top officials are appointed by Mr Karzai.

“Holding a second round of the election is really challenging for the IEC. Security and weather will make it pretty impossible to run a second round,” Mr Barakzai told the Financial Times.

The prospect of protracted wrangling over the results of a complex recount process could prolong political uncertainty and throw Western strategy for fighting a strengthening Taliban insurgency deeper into disarray. A prolonged dispute could raise the risk of ethnic tensions between Mr Karzai’s Pashtun community in the south and the Tajik minority in the north, many of whom back Mr Abdullah.

Envoys are seeking to forge a compromise between Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah that would resolve the crisis stemming from evidence of widespread fraud at the August 20 elections, though a source close to the discussions said no breakthrough seems imminent.

The source said Mr Karzai’s supporters were insisting that they be granted victory in the first-round to allow them to improve their bargaining position ahead of power-sharing talks with Mr Abdullah.

“They don’t want a second round, they think they have won the election, and that their right is being taken away from them. They want to negotiate from a position of strength,” the source said. “Ultimately whatever happens there has to be a broad political understanding to avoid polarisation and fault lines.”

The source added that Mr Abdullah’s camp was intent on the recount process being allowed to run its course in the belief that any order to hold a second round – even if it is not implemented – will bolster their hand in power-sharing talks.

Mr Karzai and his officials have already begun to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the recount in the past few days, reinforcing concerns that they may be preparing the ground to reject its conclusions.

Waheed Omer, a spokesman for Mr Karzai’s campaign, said he was concerned that the recount might be being “politically manipulated,” although he said he still had confidence in the process.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, and Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, called the various candidates on Friday amid growing international concerns about Afghanistan’s political future.

Both Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah’s supporters deny they are in discussions over any political solution. Diplomatic sources believe, however, that contacts between the two camps are taking place through various mediators.

Nellika Little, a spokeswoman for the ECC, said that results had not been issued on Saturday due to the extreme care being taken by the commission, whose members are partly appointed by the UN. “The commissioners are being super-cautious about making sure that their numbers are right,” she said. “They see more the need to get this right than rush it because everyone’s waiting for a result.”

The ECC may start to release some of its findings on Sunday, although it is unclear how soon it will release a full enough picture to determine whether the IEC will be obliged to call a run-off.

Diplomats say repeated changes in the methodology used by the ECC for its audit in the past few weeks have added another layer of confusion to the elaborate process.

The IEC has also raised the prospect of further disputes by insisting that it reserves the right to question the ECC’s findings. “After the Electoral Complaints Commission hands over the results to the IEC then the IEC will take it’s time to review the results and see if any changes are required,” said a senior IEC official.

US senator warns on Afghan troops

US Senator John Kerry has said it would be irresponsible to send more US troops to Afghanistan before the result of the presidential election there is clear.

Mr Kerry’s comments came as foreign officials pressed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept that he might have to face a run-off.

A fraud investigation is expected to bring Mr Karzai’s vote count below the 50% needed to avoid a second round.

Washington is debating a request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan. Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO commander in the country, recommended sending the extra troops as the US reviewed its strategy. US and international troops are fighting resurgent Taliban forces in Afghanistan, an effort that observers say has been complicated by uncertainty over the 20 August election.

‘Good governance’

In comments to CNN to be broadcast on Sunday, Mr Kerry advised against a troop increase before the result of the vote was clear.

Afghan fraud allegations

13 Oct: Karzai casts doubt on fair functioning of ECC, but his opponents accuse him of manufacturing his concerns·

30 Sep: UN recalls envoy Peter Galbraith following row over the vote recount process·

15 Sep: ECC chief says 10% of votes need to be recounted·

8 Sep: IEC says votes from 600 polling stations “quarantined”·

3 Sep: Claims 30,000 fraudulent votes cast for Karzai in Kandahar·

30 Aug: 2,000 fraud allegations are probed; 600 deemed serious·

20 Aug: Election day and claims 80,000 ballots were filled out fraudulently for Karzai in Ghazni·

18 Aug: Ballot cards sold openly and voter bribes offered·

Obama CartoonIn an interview from the Afghan capital, Kabul, the senator said it would be “entirely irresponsible” for US President Barack Obama to commit more troops “when we don’t even have an election finished and know who the president is”.

“When our own… commanding general tells us that a critical component of achieving our mission here is, in fact, good governance, and we’re living with a government that we know has to change and provide it, how could the president responsibly say, ‘Oh, they asked for more, sure, here they are?'” he said.

Mr Kerry, who chairs the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, was one of several senior international figures in Kabul this weekend meeting Afghan leaders. Initial results from August’s election gave Mr Karzai 55% of the votes, with his nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, getting 28%.

But the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) launched an investigation into the vote following allegations of widespread electoral fraud. It will report to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which could adjust the final tally, bringing Mr Karzai’s vote total below 50% and triggering a run-off.

Officials say Mr Karzai is furious over the prospect of facing a second round, threatening to delay or block attempts to hold a second round. He has refused to accept the ECC’s findings before they are released.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown telephoned the main candidates on Friday, urging Mr Karzai to accept the findings of the ECC’s fraud investigations.

The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was also in Kabul to meet Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah.

The ECC had been expected to announce its findings on Saturday. But the reported confrontation with Mr Karzai may delay the official announcement of results.

Sources used and quoted –

“Armed riots threatened as Karzai scorns election inquiry” – By Jerome Starkey in Kabul (The Sunday Times) October 18

‘Brick wall’ feared in Afghan election – By Joshua Partlow ; (The Washington Post) October 18 –

Allies press Karzai to accept election audit results – By Sabrina Tavernise (The New York Times) October 17 –

Karzai balking at deal to end Afghan election dispute (McClatchy)  October 17 –

Afghanistan faces possible election run-off  By Fazel Reshad, Kabul October 17 – (Financial Times)

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One thought on “Crisis in Afghan elections and Karzai sticking in but Obama to decide what’s best for the US

  1. My concern is that the Obama Administration will, in effect, enable the Afghan electoral fraud by accepting a political deal in Afghanistan in place of a run-off.

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