Published on
The Times Online/UK

US Accepts Hamid Karzai as Afghan Leader Despite Poll Fraud Claims

Giles Whittell in Washington

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, pictured here on September 17, 2009. (AFP/File/Shah Marai)

The White House has ended weeks of hesitation over how to respond to the
Afghan election by accepting President Karzai as the winner despite evidence
that up to 20 per cent of ballots cast may have been fraudulent.

Abandoning its previous policy of not prejudging investigations of vote
rigging, the Obama Administration has conceded that Mr Karzai will be
President for another five years on the basis that even if he were forced
into a second round of voting he would almost certainly win it.

The decision will increase pressure on President Obama to justify further US
troop deployments to Afghanistan to prop up a regime now regarded as
systemically corrupt.

The acceptance was conveyed by Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, in a
meeting with her Afghan counterpart hours before Mr Obama received a formal
request from General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato forces in
Afghanistan, for up to 40,000 more troops.

Mrs Clinton told Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan Foreign Minister, that she
and her Nato colleagues — including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary —
had reached a consensus that Mr Karzai would remain President even if
investigations now under way cut his share of the first-round vote to below
50 per cent. The meeting took place last Friday but details emerged

The Administration has also told Kabul that it will support what Mr Karzai
calls a policy of “reconciliation”, which is intended to induce low and
mid-ranking Taleban fighters into swapping sides or at least to lay down
their arms. The same tactic, which boils down to paying fighters to leave
the insurgency, is central to a new counter-insurgency strategy recommended
by General McChrystal in a bleak assessment of Afghan security leaked last
week to the journalist Bob Woodward.

The effort, modelled on the “Sons of Iraq” movement that proved critical to
the success of the US-led surge in Iraq two years ago, is to be led by the
British general Sir Graeme Lamb, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Discussions on whether to grant General McChrystal’s troop request will
dominate a meeting of the National Security Council today. It will be the
first of a series that Mr Obama will chair as he chooses between the advice
of his military to flood Afghanistan’s towns and cities with fresh troops,
and that of his Vice-President and others to tear up his strategy lest it
drag him into a Vietnam-style quagmire.

Publicly Mr Obama has insisted that General McChrystal, whom he handpicked in
March, retains his full confidence. Reports of tension gained credibility,
though, with the disclosure by the general on Sunday that they had spoken
only once since he took up his post in Kabul. “I’ve talked to the President,
since I’ve been here, once on a VTC [video teleconference],” he told the CBS
programme 60 Minutes.

British officials said yesterday that accepting Mr Karzai as winner of the
election was “a recognition of the facts on the ground”. The British
preference had been for Mr Karzai to form a national unity government taking
in his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah — a scenario that the White House would
also have welcomed — but Dr Abdullah appears to have ruled it out.

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