Karzai disappoints Washington by going second round Nov. 7
Had Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai bowed out between rounds, negotiations would have begun with his rival Abdullah Abdullah for a national unity government in Kabul with an eventual role for Taliban; the process of ending the war in Afghanistan could then have started unfolding. As it turned out, the sitting president did not balk at the findings of the UN-Backed Election Complaints Commission, which found him short of a majority in the first round of voting (48.3 percent) due to fraudulent ballots. He accepted them and then assented to the Afghanistan’s Independent Electrical Commission – EC’s call for a run-off vote on Nov. 7.
President Barack Obama kept up a respectable diplomatic front by congratulating the Afghan president on his decision.
With John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate foreign affairs committee, standing at his side, Karzai thus staked his chances on a second round, a gamble the outcome of which ties in closely with the success of the offensive the Pakistan army launched on Oct. 17 to root out Taliban-al Qaeda strongholds in South Waziristan and destroy their sanctuaries for making war in Afghanistan.
Washington, according to debkafile‘s sources, would much rather have seen the Afghan president step down. The American NATO commander, Stanley McChrystal, in his request for up to 60,000 more troops, described Karzai’s regime as corrupt and inept and therefore an obstacle to a victory over the Taliban. Obama administration envoys tried to persuade Karzai to accept a national unity government with himself as a virtual figurehead and executive powers passed to his rival Abdallah as prime minister.
They failed. The obstacle is still there. Shortly after the IEC announcement, Tuesday, Oct. 20, Karzai issued a presidential decree to the Afghanistan armed forces to make all the security arrangements necessary for a second round of presidential elections eighteen days hence.
NATO forces now face the nightmare of securing a second round of voting in increasingly difficult weather conditions. Persuading the Afghan voter to turn out a second time and risk life and limb against Taliban attacks in freezing weather will be harder than the first.
The Afghan president has given the Taliban new leverage in the country and offset some of the hoped-for benefits from Islamabad’s military offensive in next-door South Waziristan.
Three elements are now stacked on the minus side of the White House’s Afghan/Pakistan ledger:
1. International monitors failed to guarantee a fair election and clear outcome in the first round. Taliban may have failed to fatally disrupt the Afghan election, but they won a second chance to do their worst and deepen their grip on the populace.
2. Taliban ignored the broad hints from Washington that the election could be used as a fulcrum for negotiations on an eventual power-sharing deal. The US and Britain were disinclined to enter into such negotiations on behalf of a Kabul regime headed by Karzai.
3. The three Pakistan columns in South Waziristan are moving slowly, engaging the Taliban in sporadic tests of strength, whilel the insurgents pull their main forces back to rugged mountain fastnesses 15,000 feet high. It is there that the main confrontation must take place. But at the present rate of advance, Pakistani units can hardly make these locations before early November when the first winter snowfalls force both sides to dig in for the winter until the melt in spring 2010.
Like their fellows in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Taliban are therefore left for the moment in command of the initiative on both highly-volatile fronts.
In both places, they are trying to unnerve the US-backed governments with devastating terrorist attacks. The latest in Islamabad Tuesday by two suicide bombers claimed by Taliban left at least 7 dead and 29 injured at Islamabad’s university.
The White House in Washington has put its decision to allocate thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan on ice until the shape of government in Kabul firms up. It has staked its Pakistan strategy on the outcome of the South Waziristan campaign. Both ventures are stuck in the snow for now.