Week in Review, 10/18-10/24

As everyone is no doubt aware, President Karzai was stripped of his outright election win this week, triggering a runoff to be held November 7. Let’s take a look at the sequence of events that got us to this point.


The Electoral Complaints Commission reports its findings to the Independent Electoral Commission, the body responsible for certifying the elections. The ECC rejects the results from 2100 polling stations, eliminating 1.25 million votes and leaving Karzai with 49.7% of the vote, short of the 50%+1 needed to avoid a second round.


The IEC announces the date for the runoff election. President Karzai accepts the IEC’s decision–grudgingly–after a two-hour meeting with Senator John Kerry and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Kerry was in the neighborhood to meet with Pakistani leaders, and added a stopover in Kabul as an apparent afterthought. Dexter Filkins of the Times has credited Kerry’s “relentless efforts” for Karzai’s decision to accept the ECC’s findings; the fact that the U.S. isn’t yet committed to a troop surge apparently provided him with an important piece of leverage, since he can hold the threat of withdrawal over Karzai’s head. Note that Kerry has been very careful to specify that he has not discussed the option of a coalition government, which he says would be an “inappropriate” topic.

Karzai proceeds to initiate emergency preparations for the new poll.


President Karzai announces that he will take part in the runoff election. Representatives of the ISAF nations are quick to congratulate him on what Gordon Brown referred to as a “statesmanlike” move. (Brown spoke with Karzai three times in the 48 hours preceding Karzai’s decision, according to the Telegraph.)

Dr. Abdullah speaks with Karzai, reportedly for the first time since August. Abdullah has continued to maintain that he has no interest in joining a coalition government. Karzai has taken a hard line against negotiating before the runoff but remains open to the idea of a coalition government. This may reflect the fact that Karzai still holds the better cards, as I mentioned last week, because even after the shut-down of several hundred “ghost” polling stations, he’s still in a very good position to prevail in the runoff.

Dr. Abdullah agrees to participate in the second round–with certain conditions. He says that a re-run under conditions similar to August’s will not be acceptable. The U.N. announces that several hundred poll officials “complicit” in fraud will be removed before November 7, which means that the total number of Afghan poll officials will be greatly reduced. (They have less to oversee, since there aren’t any local elections this time around.)

Abdullah, however, seems to be holding out for the removal of several pro-Karzai members from the IEC. For its part, the IEC has already begun to suggest that the demands of Abdullah and international observers–increased transparency, etc.–can’t realistically be met under war conditions.

President Obama hints that a decision on troop levels will wait until the runoff takes place. Senator Kerry enthusiastically endorses the idea. Last week’s meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava came out with a strong statement endorsing General McChrystal’s intensive counterinsurgency strategy–a policy heavily promoted by NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen.


Kai Eide echoes the NATO call for stepped-up counterinsurgency. (Eide also got in one more parting shot against Peter Galbraith, even though Galbraith looks pretty prescient right about now.) Meanwhile, though, member countries (like Denmark and the Netherlands) clarify that their decision won’t come before the runoff election.


Obama discusses the election results with Ambassador Eikenberry, but the White House is very quiet about their conclusions. Administration officials have been adamant about not setting a date for the release of the new strategy, even in the face of mounting Republican pressure as well as rising frustration from segments of the military. It’s hard to know how much to make of quotes like the ones in the Times story I linked there, but quotes like this from Obama aren’t going to improve the situation: “I think it is entirely possible that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff is determined. We may not announce it.” Okay.

Saturday and Sunday

Campaigning begins across the country. Pajhwok reports a gathering of 1,000+ tribal elders in Jalalabad in support of Karzai. More troublingly, Kabul University students protest the foreign presence in Afghanistan, apparently in response to the rumor that American troops burnt a Koran. Check out this picture of a protest banner, from Radio Liberty: “No Democracy, We Just Want Islam”. In English, in case there was any doubt about the intended target.

So what will a second round actually look like? Unsurprisingly, the international community is falling all over itself to declare its optimism. Richard Holbrooke declared himself confident that the runoff would have “fewer irregularities”. (Speaking of Holbrooke, McClatchy wants to know: where was he while Kerry was jawboning Karzai?) U.N. Envoy Kai Eide made the same point more cautiously, choosing to emphasize the inevitability of fraud while maintaining that the level would be reduced.

It’s also clear that some policymakers are hedging their bets, hinting that the United States may double down in Afghanistan even with a fraud-tainted government–see, for example, Secretary Gates’ recent remarks, which attempt to distinguish the broader issue of legitimacy from the election results. (A fair point, in my opinion, but one that may not sway skeptics in Congress.)

And what about the result? I’ve only seen a few analysts suggesting that it will be radically different from the first vote. Pajhwok interviews Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Center, who argues that the jury-rigged security measures and fickle non-Pashtun warlords could cost Karzai dearly, perhaps threatening his reelection. But Fareed Zakaria was more typical in dismissing Abdullah’s chances out of hand; a good showing by Abdullah would only be significant, he claims, in that it might pressure Karzai to include him in the government. Agence-France Presse reports on one potential wildcard: MP Ramazan Bashardost, who received 10.5% of the final tally and is still mulling what to instruct his supporters.

Unsurprisingly, the Taliban have promised a new wave of violence to accompany the runoff poll. We’ll see how the threat of violence, combined with the onset of winter, affect turnout; Pajhwok, for one, takes a cheerful perspective, finding a number of voters who skipped the first round but plan to vote in the second. But delivering seventeen million ballots to six thousand polling stations in such a short time still strikes me as phenomenally daunting.

Finally, rather than speculating on the Afghan perspective to the runoff, I’ll direct you to this post from the Afghanistan Analysts Network, and this article from The National, with a variety of reactions from around the country. Shortly I hope to post a round-up of commentary on what the week’s events imply for the United States.


One response to “Week in Review, 10/18-10/24

  1. The quotes from the “Word on the Afghan Street” blog that you linked to are really interesting…

    “Let me tell you, I am afraid. I lived through all the wars, but I was young then. Now I am old and I don’t have the patience or the tolerance anymore…”

    “So has the election been solved yet? Still not? Who are you supporting? A solution that is good for Afghanistan? You cannot find anyone in the whole of Afghanistan who is good for Afghanistan.” — Kandahari businessman

    But what this country really needs is a government that has good relations with the people. And the foreigners need to have good relations with the people. If not, whatever they do or however much they give or try, it will not matter.” — southern tribal elder (close to the Taliban)

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