U.S. fears rifts in Afghanistan if presidential vote heads for runoff

Posted By: Staff
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Kabul, Aug.22 (ANI): Western officials here have expressed relief that many Afghans defied Taliban threats of reprisals and came out to vote, but they were clearly concerned on Friday that a second round of voting could extend the paralysis of a government that already barely functions and deepen ethnic tensions, in the worst case, to the point of a north-south civil war.

A runoff, according to the New York Times, would also leave many of the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy initiatives up in the air- like fighting corruption and improving distribution of aid.

The new uncertainties come on top of the stiff military challenges facing the Obama administration as it sends thousands more troops to southern Afghanistan, where Taliban attacks and very low turnout on election day made clear the insurgents' influence.

Privately, however, American officials have set out a number of possible ways that the election aftermath could affect their operations.

During a meeting on Thursday, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO combat operations here, discussed how the military would have to adapt to each.

Particularly worrisome was the specter of a divisive ethnic presidential runoff between Karzai, whose power base is in the Pashtun south, and Abdullah, whose main support resides in the Tajik and Uzbek north, officials said.

Karzai himself has in the past raised the specter of ethnic violence, telling officials that if there was a runoff it could lead to a civil war, Western officials said.

For all of their worry about the problems that a runoff could bring, administration officials have also made clear they are not enamored of the Karzai government, and the president's re-election would not be risk-free, either.

Should Karzai win, either outright or in a second round, Obama administration officials could find themselves with a president who has engaged in so much deal-making that he may well be even more beholden to warlords than before.

American officials are, however, taking pains to present a neutral public front.Our only interest was the result, fairly, accurately reflecting the will of the Afghan people," President Obama told reporters at the White House.

Obama's Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke met privately on Friday with Karzai and Abdullah in Kabul.

Western diplomats said that if there was a runoff, it would be widely seen as a blow to Karzai and a boost for Abdullah. (ANI)

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