US in delicate spot over Afghan vote fraud claims: NYT

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Washington, Sep.9 (ANI): Though Obama administration officials are reluctant to confirm that there has been wholesale fraud in the presidential elections in Afghanistan, they have recognised that with President Hamid Karzai getting a slim majority, that they will have to keep dealing with him for another five years.

While there are clearly numerous egregious instances of fraud or vote-rigging, these officials said, it would take further investigation to judge whether, as one put it, "this whole thing is rotten, top to bottom."

According to the New York Times, their caution reflects the fact that while the initial vote-counting has reached its conclusion, the Electoral Complaints Commission, an Afghan and international panel that will certify the final count, is still in the early stages of an investigation that could take several weeks.

They know that raising too many doubts about Karzai's legitimacy could make it impossible to work with him later.

"Even if we get a second round of voting, the odds are still high that Karzai will win. We have a fundamental interest in building up the legitimacy of the Karzai government," said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who advised the administration on its Afghan policy.

European diplomats have also expressed a similar frustration that they were powerless to do much now except wait.

"There's a great perception out there that Karzai has stolen this," one diplomat said.

"I'm realistic enough to know that there's not much we can do about that right now," he adds.

The American ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, has briefed US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and has also delivered a blunt message to Karzai: "Don't declare victory."

The slim majority tentatively awarded to Karzai, has put the Obama administration in an awkward spot: trying to balance its professed determination to investigate mounting allegations of corruption and vote-rigging while not utterly alienating the man who seems likely to remain the country's leader for another five years.

"We realize that the allegations have reached such a level that we need to be very careful to allow the process to breathe," said an administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"The message was, Let's make sure that the electoral bodies do their work, and do it rigorously," he added.

On Tuesday, the United Nations-backed commission that is the ultimate arbiter of the vote said it found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" at several polling stations and ordered a partial recount.

Election officials said Karzai won 54.1 percent of the vote, a percentage that, if certified, would spare him a runoff against his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, who received 28.3 percent. (ANI)

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