Declaring Karzai president without runoff – US setback, Taliban gain
The Independent Election Commission in Kabul declared Hamid Karzai president and cancelled the second round of elections Monday, Nov. 2, the day after his only challenger Abdullah Abdullah bowed out. It acted as UN secretary Ban Ki-moon landed in Kabul for a surprise visit and met both candidates. He ran up against Abdullah’s steadfast refusal to take part in the runoff scheduled for Nov. 7, protesting it would be no freer or fairer than the first round of August 20 which was marred by wholesale election fraud.
US objectives in Afghanistan have come out of these chain of events badly battered, while the Taliban has been offered a political victory on a silver platter.
The UN secretary’s surprise visit touched off rumors that he had come to Kabul to bury the hatchet between the two candidates and encourage them to lead a unity government. This would have obviated the need for a second round of voting. According to debkafile‘s sources, the American plan was to offer Abdullah the premiership with executive powers leaving Karzai as president in name only. But by Monday afternoon, Abdullah was far from acceding to this plan.
His refusal and the cancellation of the second-round runoff have left Kabul in extreme political uncertainty on top of the military limbo resulting from the delayed White House decisions on strategy.
Will Karzai secure his second term by asking the Supreme Court to approve his 48.6 percent victory in the first round? Or will a unity government emerge for Karzai with Abdullah or some of the scores of candidates who vied against him in the first round?
However this mess resolves itself, the United States does not come out well. It is forced to accept a president whose national mandate is highly questionable and the last man Barack Obama wanted was to see ensconced in the presidential palace for another five years. The US Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal has warned that no constructive strategy would work in the country as long as a government riddled with corruption remained in place in Kabul. Last week, US sources tried claiming that Karzai’s influential brother was on the CIA payroll, hoping Hamid would take the hint and move aside. He did not.
Meanwhile, US casualties in Afghanistan peaked in October, American troops began pulling in their horns as the winter weather closed in on the country and the White House continued to broadcast uncertainty about its next steps in Afghanistan.
After the election shambles, the US president will be hard pressed to stand by the principle he has reiterated often that to win the war in Afghanistan, the people must first be won over, when Karzai lingers on in the face of his plunging popular credibility. The Taliban can claim they were vindicated in disrupting an election process which proved to have been flawed.