Abdullah set to announce run-off decision

Afghan opposition presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah is going to announce on Sunday whether he will participate in the run-off election scheduled for next week.


Reuters - Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, will announce on Sunday whether he will take part in next week’s disputed run-off vote, as Western diplomatic sources said he was leaning toward pulling out.

Abdullah canceled a planned trip to India on Saturday, just before a deadline he had given Karzai to sack Afghanistan’s top election official was to expire.

Afghanistan has been racked by weeks of political uncertainty after widespread fraud marred the first round, with security a major concern after a resurgent Taliban vowed to disrupt the Nov. 7 run-off.

With Afghanistan’s political future hanging in the balance, U.S. President Barack Obama is also weighing whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. Obama met U.S. military leaders in Washington on Friday as part of a strategy review.

A Western diplomatic source said Abdullah was leaning
toward pulling out of the election but may be using the threat as a « negotiating ploy » with Karzai.

« We have heard that talks with Karzai have broken down and he (Abdullah) is leaning toward not taking part in the election but this could also be a negotiating ploy, » said the diplomatic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the issue is sensitive. « It is not a done deal. »

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday any decision by Abdullah not to contest the run-off would not affect the vote’s legitimacy.

Asked at a news conference in Jerusalem about reports that aides to Abdullah said he would not run, Clinton did not make clear if she was confirming he would not take part in the run-off, but said, « I think that it is his decision to make.

She added: « I do not think it affects the legitimacy. There have been other situations in our own country as well as around the world where in a run-off election one of the parties decides for whatever reason that they are not going to go on. »

Abdullah’s campaign team issued a short statement on Saturday saying the former foreign minister had called a loya jirga, or grand assembly of elders, for 9.30 a.m. on Sunday (0500 GMT).

« Dr Abdullah Abdullah will a give speech about the election and he will announce his decision in the loya jirga tent, » the statement said.

Abdullah’s aides said earlier he had canceled the trip to India because of uncertainty over the election.

Diplomats said there were questions over whether Abdullah would use his news conference as a concession speech to incumbent Karzai or declare a boycott of the run-off.

Western officials have noted that Abdullah has not opened any campaign offices in Afghanistan since the run-off was called last week. Neither candidate has campaigned openly.

« The signs are there. (Abdullah’s) not doing any campaigning. Everyone is looking at the two camps and willing them to do some form of accommodation that will avoid a run-off, » one Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Diplomats and analysts have said that, according to the constitution, it was possible the run-off might go ahead with Karzai as the only candidate if Abdullah pulls out. They fear that would have a serious impact on the government’s legitimacy.


Talk of a possible power-sharing deal between Karzai and Abdullah has also grown as a possible solution to the deadlock.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it was a matter for Karzai and Abdullah to decide if they could come up with a constitutionally sound solution acceptable to Afghans.

Western diplomats have said privately Abdullah may have overplayed his hand with last week’s ultimatum to Karzai, which included a demand to dismiss three ministers in a bid to avoid a repeat of the first-round fraud.

Karzai has already indicated he would not give in to Abdullah’s demand. Abdullah has not said yet what he would do if the officials were not removed.

The run-off was triggered when a U.N.-led investigation found widespread fraud, mainly in favor of Karzai, had been committed during the Aug. 20 first round.

The United States already has about 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and the decision to send more hinges on whether the Afghan government is seen by U.S. lawmakers and the public as a legitimate and viable partner.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, said Afghanistan faced a return to a « brutal tyranny » if the Taliban, al Qaeda and their militant Islamist allies were allowed to return to power.  Bush was speaking at the leadership summit in New Delhi Abdullah had been due to attend.

Many commentators and Western diplomats believe Karzai will likely win the run-off, adding pressure on Abdullah to withdraw for the sake of stability.

It would also avoid the mobilization of thousands of foreign troops that would be needed to help secure polling stations after poor security and Taliban threats cut voter turnout in August.

The Taliban have called on Afghans to boycott the run-off and have vowed to disrupt the poll, their threat underlined on Wednesday by a suicide attack on a Kabul guest-house used by the United Nations in which five foreign U.N. staff were killed.


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