x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Afghan runoff election likely to be cancelled

Abdullah's decision to withdraw from the run-off election means Karzai is assured of re-election and with the election's outcome known in advance, little reason that anyone should risk their life casting a vote.

The decision by the only presidential challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, to withdraw from the November 7 run-off election means that, as an unopposed candidate, Hamid Karzai is assured of re-election as Afghanistan's president. With the election's outcome known in advance and in view of threats from the Taliban, there appears little reason that anyone should risk their life casting a vote. The election's cancellation is expected. Mr Abdullah had given his opponent until Saturday to meet a number of conditions required to avoid a repeat of the widespread fraud that had resulted in a third of Mr Karzai's votes in the first round being discounted. These conditions included removing the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission and closing about 500 polling centres. The Los Angeles Times said: "Karzai has rejected most of Abdullah's demands as either illegal or impractical, according to the president's aides." The New York Times reported: "The election deadlock, now in its ninth week, has highlighted the Afghan state's fragility, as well as showing deep and growing divisions among Afghans. And it has, like so many other recent events here, posed a worsening problem for American and other Western leaders, who have found themselves stuck with a leader who has lost the support of large numbers of Afghans and whose government is widely regarded as corrupt. An Obama administration official said Saturday that the White House had not spoken to Mr Abdullah and that it had no immediate plans to do so. "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling in Abu Dhabi, gave the administration's only comment. 'We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward,' she said. 'I don't think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election. It's a personal choice which may or may not be made.' "The concern among diplomats here on Saturday was that Mr Abdullah would denounce Mr Karzai even as he bowed out of the race, possibly causing greater anger, and even violence, among his followers. American and Western diplomats were leaning on Mr Abdullah to pull out with little rancour and to urge his supporters to accept the fact that Mr Karzai would be president. "Mr Karzai's supporters are hoping he will, too. Over the past month, as the evidence of vote stealing piled up, Mr Karzai's ministers carried on with extraordinary self-confidence, portraying the fraud, and the runoff itself, as a nuisance that, once overcome, would allow them to get on with their jobs." Afghan officials told the paper it seemed likely that the run-off election would simply be canceled. Before Mr Abdullah's withdrawal had been reported, The Times said: "The American who was sacked as the deputy head of the UN mission in Afghanistan after alleging a cover-up of election fraud accused President Karzai yesterday of masterminding another massive operation to steal next week's run-off contest. "Peter Galbraith, who left Afghanistan abruptly last month after accusing the UN of failing to prevent Mr Karzai rigging August's presidential election, said there was no doubt that the Afghan President was organising another massive fraud for the run-off against Abdullah Abdullah, his opponent, next Saturday. "He said that UN workers overseeing the latest poll run-off had contacted him in recent days to say that nothing had changed and that the second-round vote will again involve fraud on a grand scale. " 'It's a sure thing,' Mr Galbraith said. 'It is beyond blatant. This is in your face. It has become clear that Karzai has no intention of instituting reforms. He simply intends to repeat the same fraud. It is the same exercise as before.'" Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported: "The idea of talking to the Taliban - a strategy advocated by Afghan officials - has become increasingly seductive as the Western death toll in the conflict mounts. "Obama administration officials openly ponder an outreach to the leadership of Islamist militants, something that has been long advocated by European allies. Gen Stanley McChrystal has already told the US-led forces under his command here that 'reintegrating' lower-level Taliban gunmen into Afghan society is as desirable as killing or capturing them. "In his assessment of the Afghan war, Gen McChrystal explained that conflicts of this kind typically end with a reconciliation with elements of the insurgency - and, in Afghanistan, may involve 'high-level political settlements'. "Afghan officials share this view. 'Everyone has come to the conclusion that fighting is not a solution to the Afghan problem,' says Sayed Sharif, director of the government's Commission for Peace and Reconciliation. 'More combat brings nothing but destruction. History teaches us that the only solution is a negotiated one.'" In The Times of India, Rishabh Bhandari wrote: "Eight years after the farcically titled Operation Enduring Freedom was launched in Afghanistan, albeit with good intentions , it has achieved the opposite result. Living under the fear and barrage of drone attacks and violence has meant that instead of enduring freedom, it might be said the war has led Afghans into a cycle of enduring misery. If ever a perverse strategy to win 'hearts and minds' was launched this must be it. No wonder the Afghans aren't a grateful bunch. "But if the Afghan people aren't yielding to the irrepressible logic that the continued presence of foreign troops in their homeland should be welcomed by them, they are not alone in their scepticism. In Britain, public opposition to the Afghan war has gathered much momentum. A recent Populus poll revealed that 68 per cent favoured troop withdrawal this year. The continued loss of British lives together with the billions funnelled overseas for a war without any achievable purpose - with an economic recession simultaneously biting at home - have inflamed this feeling of discontentment. The same sentiment of disillusionment can be found in the US too. "Nonetheless, the British government insists that the war in Afghanistan is needed to make the streets of Britain safer. But paradoxically, the war in Afghanistan - along with the misadventure in Iraq - has fuelled a virulently home-grown strand of Islamic extremism making the streets of Britain less secure than before. Training in Luton has turned out to be no less evil than in Lashkar Goh. "General Stanley McCrystal, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan may want 40,000 troops more. But in the absence of a coherent strategy, an increase in numbers is no guarantor of success. And it may precipitate a greater chaos, escalating the instability in Pakistan that the war in Afghanistan has already contributed to with devastating effect. Having anointed operations in Afghanistan as a war of 'necessity', President Obama now faces the task of back-pedalling without losing credibility. But rethink he should. Vietnam took a huge political toll on Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Afghanistan may yet do the same damage to Obama."

pwoodward@thenational.ae