Afghan run-off may force US hand on troops

Obama ponders reinforcements as Kabul authorities face struggle to ensure fair vote

The White House signalled last night that Hamid Karzai's decision to accept a run-off vote in Afghanistan could expedite a verdict on whether to increase US troop numbers there.

But as Barack Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters that it was "certainly possible" the crucial answer on troop levels would come before the November ballot, election experts in Kabul warned too little is being done to ensure the run-off is any more credible than the first, fraud-ridden round.

Separately, US officials emphasised that a power-sharing agreement remained a strong possibility as a way of resolving the crisis without a return to the ballot box. In an NBC TV interview last night the President appeared to acknowledge that the situation remains fluid. "I think we're still... finding out how this whole process in Afghanistan is going to unfold," he said.

Despite a vast logistical effort across the country, led by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), to transport millions of fresh ballot papers, boxes and indelible ink, observers issued a damning verdict on the chances of a fair election the second time around.

"The worrying thing in this election is okay, we knew fraud had been committed. You had all these fraud mitigation policies drafted by the IEC – and they didn't follow them," said one Western election official. "What ... are they going to do to mitigate that fraud? I really don't know. I don't have a clue."

Mr Karzai's reluctant acceptance that a run-off was inevitable came after a UN-backed commission found that nearly one-third of his votes were fraudulent, depressing his numbers to just below the required 50 per cent. Had he resisted – and he was a hair's breadth from doing so – chaos could have ensued. But the new vote will not solve all of Afghanistan's electoral problems. Continuing scepticism about the prospects of a fair ballot has done little to bolster public confidence in the US mission in Afghanistan. An ABC-Washington Post poll yesterday showed the US divided over whether Mr Obama should accede to his commanders' request for more troops. And a large majority said they did not believe he had a clear plan for the war. A new vote would at least provide an American administration desperate for good news from Kabul with some evidence of progress.

The signs so far, however, are that a trouble-free re-run could be a tall order. The UN confirmed yesterday that it would fire 200 of the 380 district election chiefs in an effort to reduce fraud. But a shake-up of the leadership a fortnight before voting has the potential to be a political and managerial nightmare.

The IEC must rehire part-time staff to man polling centres, passing over any who were complicit in the vote rigging or failed to follow procedures the first time. Observers need to be mustered. And Afghan and international forces must mobilise troops to defend polling centres from Taliban attack. The UN has set aside more than $20m (£12m) to support the poll.

"They said they would be looking into staffing problems but of course they're not going to be able to do that in the next two weeks," the Western election official said.

Another election official said that the IEC had to be more accountable. "The meetings of the IEC need to be open and transparent," said Ahmad Nader Nadery, head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan. "In the past election... they were not."

In an attempt to limit the impact of corruption, the number of polling stations – the individual booths at each polling centre – will be slashed from 23,000 to 16,000. The aim is to eliminate those where wholesale ballot stuffing took place. A UN spokesman said this would not reduce voting. "If a polling station returned mainly illegitimate papers, we're not disenfranchising voters, we're disenfranchising people who tried to cheat," said Aleem Siddique.

Rumours of a power-sharing deal have swirled around Kabul. They were given further credence last night by an Associated Press report that a US defence official had said the two governments were continuing to discuss that possibility. But Mr Karzai has said emphatically that he would prefer to beat the opposition candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, in a run-off than swallow a compromise. "He wants to go to a second round," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President's half-brother.

For his part, Mr Abdullah said he would only take part in the run-off if certain conditions were met to mitigate cheating. He told reporters that "in order to prepare the ground for transparency and fairness of the elections we have certain recommendations, suggestions as well as conditions that... we will come up with soon".

He also said "certain sad realities" made it impossible to stop the Taliban from intimidating voters. Although both candidates claim more voters than last time will turn out the reality is that there is little appetite for more polling. Turnout estimates were as low as 5 per cent for some areas hit particularly hard by the insurgency last time. In Kandahar City, the streets were deserted at midday and the Taliban hanged two people who had braved the rockets and gunfire to get to polling centres, as well as cutting the ink-stained fingers off others.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit