The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Karzai declared winner of Afghan presidential election after runoff canceled

Kabul in crisis After Afghan presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah announced on Sunday that he would boycott the runoff election scheduled for November 7, Afghan election officials have canceled the second round of voting and declared incumbent President Hamid Karzai the winner (AP, BBC, CNN, Reuters, Telegraph, New York Times, Washington Post, Pajhwok). United Nations Secretary ...

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Kabul in crisis

After Afghan presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah announced on Sunday that he would boycott the runoff election scheduled for November 7, Afghan election officials have canceled the second round of voting and declared incumbent President Hamid Karzai the winner (AP, BBC, CNN, Reuters, Telegraph, New York Times, Washington Post, Pajhwok). United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has reportedly landed in Kabul to broker some sort of power sharing arrangement between Abdullah and Karzai, who was effectively handed a second term after Abdullah’s emotional withdrawal (Times of London, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post, Financial Times, Guardian, Pajhwok). Veteran correspondent Pamela Constable describes the uncertainty that pervades Kabul as the election drama unfolds in today’s must-read (Washington Post).

Last week’s deadly attack at a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul was reportedly jointly planned by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network and an al Qaeda operative (New York Times). Security concerns presented a stark challenge for the second round of Afghan elections. The U.S., U.K., and U.N. have issued statements of congratulations to Karzai (AP).

Given the extensive fraud that plagued the first round of elections back in August, whether Karzai can be considered a legitimate leader by Afghans and the international community is a critical question for the Obama administration as it ponders whether to send more troops to the troubled country (New York Times). “Needless to say, this is not where we wanted to be after nine months,” commented a senior aide to the president.

And though more troops have not been sent as of yet, Bagram Air Field, the biggest military hub for the U.S. in Afghanistan, is expanding into a military ‘boom town’ (AP). One senior Pentagon official reportedly pegged the cost of sending 40,000 more soldiers to the country at around $20 billion per year (CNN). Obama reportedly has two more Afghanistan meetings on his schedule this week (New York Times).

Small but deadly

U.S. intelligence officials are becoming increasingly worried that al Qaeda and its affiliates, no longer focusing on the ‘spectacular’ September 11-style attacks they once emphasized, are planning smaller operations in the U.S. that are more likely to succeed (New York Times). Two recently disrupted operations — two Chicago men planning an attack on a Danish newspaper, and a onetime Denver coffee cart vendor plotting to use explosives in the U.S. — demonstrate this shift.

A bank bombing

A suicide bomb ripped through a line of workers waiting to collect their monthly salaries in the heavily fortified town of Rawalpindi, some 20 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, killing at least 35 and wounding dozens more (AFP, BBC, AP, Al Jazeera, CNN). Many of the victims were soldiers, indicating militant desire to keep targeting Pakistan’s security forces (New York Times, Dawn). There have been 12 major attacks in Pakistan in the last month, killing more than 315 people, and the Pakistani government has put up some $5 million worth of rewards for information leading to the capture of top Taliban leaders, including TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, head of the Taliban in South Waziristan Wali ur-Rehman, and Qari Hussain, the commander in Kotkai (AP, BBC, AP, Bloomberg).

The bloody attacks across Pakistan come as the Pakistani military’s offensive in South Waziristan slowly moves along, with the Army claiming that Kani Guram, a major base for Uzbek fighters in the region, and Sararogha and Makeen, two other key strategic towns in the insurgency-riddled tribal region of northwest Pakistan, are being surrounded or have already been cleared (Dawn, Bloomberg, AFP, AFP, CNN). A security official said that the battle for Sararogha, Makeen, and Ladha “is going to be a tough fight” (Reuters). Independent verification of casualty figures or military operations is impossible because of limited access to the region.

Militants blew up a girls’ school this weekend in Khyber, another tribal area bordering Afghanistan, wounding several in the latest example of extremists targeting educational institutions in Pakistan (Times of London, AP). Islamabad has reportedly been transformed in a few short years from a “quiet, well-ordered and wealthy” city to one “under siege” as terrorist attacks hit the capital (AP).

Sk8ers

Two Australians have helped set up Afghanistan’s first skateboarding park, recently opened and dubbed “Skateistan” (The Age). Three hundred kids, 60 percent of them girls, are already signed up, and two of Kabul’s leading mullahs are supporting the spread of the sport.

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AHMAD MASOOD/AFP/Getty Images

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