The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: host of problems awaits Afghan election runoff

Second time’s the charm? Yesterday morning, incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai capitulated to the results of a U.N.-backed fraud investigation that dropped his share of the troubled August 20 presidential ballot below the 50 percent margin needed to avoid a runoff against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah (Financial Times, New York Times, AP, AFP, Independent, ...

Second time's the charm?

Yesterday morning, incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai capitulated to the results of a U.N.-backed fraud investigation that dropped his share of the troubled August 20 presidential ballot below the 50 percent margin needed to avoid a runoff against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah (Financial Times, New York Times, AP, AFP, Independent, Los Angeles Times). U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the Afghan president, though the Taliban were less than thrilled, as a spokesman for the militant group promised a wave of "different techniques" to disrupt the second balloting, scheduled for November 7 and already presenting a host of logistical problems for Afghan bureaucrats (McClatchy, AP, Times of London, Pajhwok).

Abdullah reportedly contacted Karzai last night and has agreed to take place in the second round election (Reuters). Skeptics are concerned that a second round will be no less fraud-ridden and dangerous than the first and worry that even if Karzai wins the runoff, his government will still be tainted by the August 20 contest (AP, AP, Foreign Policy). Efforts to get the two politicians to join forces are expected to intensify, and while Abdullah has hinted he's open to the idea, Karzai appears to have ruled it out (New York Times). A map of where fraud occurred in the first election is available here (New York Times).

Second time’s the charm?

Yesterday morning, incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai capitulated to the results of a U.N.-backed fraud investigation that dropped his share of the troubled August 20 presidential ballot below the 50 percent margin needed to avoid a runoff against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah (Financial Times, New York Times, AP, AFP, Independent, Los Angeles Times). U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the Afghan president, though the Taliban were less than thrilled, as a spokesman for the militant group promised a wave of "different techniques" to disrupt the second balloting, scheduled for November 7 and already presenting a host of logistical problems for Afghan bureaucrats (McClatchy, AP, Times of London, Pajhwok).

Abdullah reportedly contacted Karzai last night and has agreed to take place in the second round election (Reuters). Skeptics are concerned that a second round will be no less fraud-ridden and dangerous than the first and worry that even if Karzai wins the runoff, his government will still be tainted by the August 20 contest (AP, AP, Foreign Policy). Efforts to get the two politicians to join forces are expected to intensify, and while Abdullah has hinted he’s open to the idea, Karzai appears to have ruled it out (New York Times). A map of where fraud occurred in the first election is available here (New York Times).

In smoke-filled rooms

Sen. John Kerry, among world leaders, was reportedly hard at work behind the scenes convincing Karzai to accept a runoff, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama administration special representative to the region Richard Holbrooke were both in touch with the man from Massachusetts during four intense days of negotiations in Kabul (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Bloomberg, CNN). British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also spoke with Karzai three times in the last two days to encourage him to accept a second round (Telegraph).

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned earlier today that another round of elections won’t simply solve all of Afghanistan’s corruption and governance issues, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told the BBC that more than half of Afghanistan’s election officials who had been complicit in election fraud should get fired, and said to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that they will be replaced before November 7 (AP, BBC, CNN, Reuters).

This latest chapter in the never-ending election comes as yet another poll finds flagging support for the war in Afghanistan; in a new Washington Post-ABC News survey, only 45 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan, down from 63 percent in April, and the U.S. public is strongly and deeply divided on the issue of troop strength, as 47 percent of those polled favor a buildup and 49 percent oppose it (Washington Post). The full poll results are available here (Washington Post).

A brazen blast

After yesterday’s double suicide bombing at an Islamic university in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Pakistan has closed all schools and colleges for at least five days (Dawn, Bloomberg, BBC, Daily Times). The university is expected to re-open on Monday (Geo TV). The attack occurred in the midst of the Pakistani military offensive in South Waziristan, which rages on with pitched battles over key towns in the rugged tribal region and could cause as many as a quarter of a million Pakistanis to become refugees (Wall Street Journal). Security forces are reportedly gaining in the battle for Kotkai, a town that is particularly symbolic because the current chief of the Pakistani Taliban and the mastermind of the Taliban’s campaign of suicide attacks both hail from there (AP, Al Jazeera). Independent information from the region is not available, however.

The chief of Pakistan’s powerful army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, reportedly complained to top U.S. military leader Gen. David Petraeus during the CENTCOM commander’s recent visit to Pakistan that the U.S. closed eight checkpoints on the Afghanistan/Pakistan boundary, four of which border South Waziristan (Telegraph). The closure was ordered after top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy review assessed the U.S. should focus on protecting population centers in lieu of remote outposts, though a NATO spokesman insisted there was no gap in security.

Though nationally public opinion in Pakistan has turned against the Pakistani Taliban after months of brutal attacks, public and official reaction in Punjab province is mixed toward the Army’s efforts in northwest Pakistan (Washington Post). Jane Perlez lays out some of the nuances behind the Pakistani Army’s recent deals with two tribal commanders in Waziristan (New York Times).

Strikes some scores away

An alleged U.S. drone killed at least three militants in a strike just minutes ago in North Waziristan in a village called Spalaga on the border with South Waziristan, the 44th drone strike in Pakistan this year (AP). In part four of New York Times reporter David Rohde’s intense account of his seven month long kidnapping by Haqqani militants in Pakistan, he described being nearby the March 25 drone strike in Makeen, South Waziristan, and observed that the strikes "created a paranoia among the Taliban" (New York Times). For a detailed analysis of the drones program, visit a newly-released report by the New America Foundation (New America Foundation).

The next generation

Thirty-one women graduated last Sunday from a course training them to be midwives in Jawzjan and Faryab, two northern Afghan provinces where they will be employed (Pajhwok). The midwives completed 18 months of training financed by USAID.

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