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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions