Karzai under pressure as Afghan election ruling due

Afghanistan remained locked in political crisis on Monday as President Hamid Karzai resisted accepting the result of a United Nations-led fraud investigation into August’s disputed presidential election, diplomats said.

The election, tainted by allegations of widespread fraud, has fanned tension between Karzai and Western governments whose troops are fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan in a war that has entered its ninth year.

The protracted process has complicated United States President Barack Obama’s deliberations on whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan his top military commander there says he needs.

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said it would finally unveil its verdict on Afghanistan’s disputed vote later on Monday after weeks of uncertainty.

Diplomats said Karzai’s camp was unhappy with the findings because they were expected to cut his tally to below 50%—a condition that triggers a second round against his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

“Karzai is putting up resistance to accept a possible second round,” said a foreign diplomat close to the talks. “Abdullah is sitting back because at the moment, things are going his way.”

Karzai has long spoken out against a second round and has criticised the fraud investigation, which he hinted could have involved foreign meddling. Abdullah has said he would accept the ECC decision if all fraud had been properly investigated.

The ECC announcement, originally expected at the weekend, was delayed as Western powers sought to get Karzai to agree to face Abdullah in a second round.

In a sign of continued diplomacy, the UN top envoy Kai Eide had been visiting both Karzai and Abdullah daily to persuade them to accept the ECC ruling, a UN official said.

It was not immediately clear whether Afghanistan’s separate Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) would accept the ECC ruling.
The IEC was not available for a comment on what it thought about the ECC findings.

Under Afghan electoral law, the ECC is mandated to instruct the IEC to announce the final result of the election based on the watchdog’s findings.

“It [IEC] cannot reject it constitutionally but that does not mean they will not do that,” said another foreign diplomat.

US seeks “reliable” partner
In Washington, the White House said the US needed a reliable partner in Kabul and Obama’s Afghanistan strategy and decision on US troops depended on whether the Kabul government was effective.

The overriding question is not “how many troops you send, but do you have a credible Afghan partner?” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Obama is considering whether to send 40 000 more troops to Afghanistan after a request by General Stanley McChrystal, the man in charge of all foreign forces there, who says he needs the extra forces to tackle a strengthening insurgency.

Speaking to CBS on Sunday, Emanuel said it was key to “get a government that is seen as legitimate to the people and has the credibility to be a partner in the effort to secure Afghanistan so it’s not a haven for al-Qaeda or other type of terrorists or international terrorist organisations”.

Pressure has been mounting on Karzai to find a way out of the protracted crisis as foreign diplomats and officials, including US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairperson John Kerry, flocked to Kabul over the weekend to help broker a solution.

Observers familiar with the talks said a range of scenarios were on the table, including a power-sharing deal with Abdullah.

For his part, while accusing Karzai’s camp of fraud and calling for a second round, Abdullah has hinted he might be open to discussions after the first round result is announced.

Preliminary figures gave Karzai 54,6% of the vote. If, under the ECC ruling, enough votes are thrown out from his tally, he will face Abdullah in a second round within two weeks.—Reuters

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