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Frantic diplomatic efforts to address political limbo

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-11-02

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Kabul on Monday as Afghan officials and Western diplomats scrambled to resolve the latest political crisis sparked by opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s withdrawal from the Nov. 7 run-off.

With less than five days to go before a scheduled run-off vote, frantic diplomatic efforts were underway in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Monday, to try to resolve a political crisis following presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah’s withdrawal from the Nov. 7 poll.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Kabul on Monday for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai a day after Abdullah’s withdrawal essentially cleared the way for Karzai to serve another five-year term in office.

But Karzai’s credibility as a partner in the international mission to try to secure the war-torn nation has been further tarnished by Abdullah’s boycott of the run-off vote.

In his much-anticipated statement on Sunday, a visibly emotional Abdullah stressed that the reason for his withdrawal was his political rival’s failure to respond to his campaign’s demands for procedural changes, including sacking senior Afghan election officials, to avoid the problems confronted during the flawed first round held on Aug. 20.

FRANCE24 correspondent Jerome Starkey in Kabul

Responding to Abudullah’s withdrawal, Karzai’s campaign officials as well as Afghan election officials have maintained that the Nov. 7 poll should still take place.

But according to GRN correspondent in Kabul, Jerome Starkey, Western diplomats in Kabul were focused on trying to persuade Karzai and the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) to cancel the upcoming poll.

“Given the risks – both the human costs, the financial costs and the huge logistical effort involved in getting thousands of ballot papers to polling stations in remote parts of the country for an election that the Taliban have boycotted – given all these risks, they are trying to persuade the (election) organisers that is not worth holding a run-off when only one candidate is going to compete,” Starkey told FRANCE 24 Monday.

The IEC is set to announce a decision on the run-off vote later on Monday.

Amid mounting speculation that the run-off would be cancelled, Ban told a press conference in Kabul that the UN would respect any decision taken by the IEC.

"If and when the Independent Election Commission makes a decision consistent with the constitutional procedures... the United Nations will respect and support that decision," said Ban.

Despite his withdrawal from the race, Abdullah has stopped short of calling for a boycott of the run-off vote.

Clinton urges Abdullah to work for peace

The latest twist in the Afghan political crisis comes as US President Barack Obama is deliberating a new strategy for the US mission in Afghanistan, one that could see a surge of US troops in the war-torn country amid mounting domestic discontent over the military mission in Afghanistan.

The decision to hold a run-off followed intense diplomatic pressure on Karzai to concede that he did not win the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a run-off. Final tallies showed Karzai winning 49.67 percent of the vote.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters late on Sunday while travelling in Morocco, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration would work with Karzai should he remain Afghanistan’s leader.

"It is now a matter for the Afghan authorities to decide on a way ahead that brings this electoral process to a conclusion in line with the Afghan constitution," said Clinton.

She also urged Abdullah to "stay engaged" and work for peace in Afghanistan.

Heightened security fears in the run-up to the run-off

There have been heightened fears of civil unrest in Afghanistan’s main cities following Abdullah’s decision amid questions over how his supporters would respond to the political situation.

A Tajik-Pashtun former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah won just over 30 percent of the vote on Aug. 20. He enjoys wide popularity among the country’s ethnic Tajik community while Karzai’s support base stems from the majority Pashtun community.

The political crisis has also increased fears of Taliban attacks across the country.

Last week, a brazen Taliban attack on a UN guest-house in Kabul killed five UN staffers. Analysts expect Ban to hold a meeting about the security situation with the UN special representative to Afghanistan and other UN staff.

Date created : 2009-11-02


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