Sunday, November 1, 2009

Afghanistan situation just keeps getting worse

Just when it seemed the chaotic political situation in war-torn Afghanistan was about to get some clarity comes word that presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah had withdrawn from Sunday's runoff election. Abdullah's decision to withdraw casts further doubt on the legitimacy of the troubled Western-backed government in Kabul led by Hamid Karzai, which has been wracked by a growing insurgency, corruption charges and fraud allegations from the first round of balloting in August, according to the Reuters international news service. With tears in his eyes, Abdullah told thousands of supporters in a tent in Kabul that he was dropping out because Afghani authorities would not meet his demands to ensure a fair runoff, including sacking the country's top election official. Karzai got the most votes in the first round but a United Nations investigation found widespread fraud, triggering the runoff, Reuters said. The fraudulent election was an embarrassment to the United States and its allies, who have dedicated more than 40,000 troops to defend Afghanistan's government against resurgent Taliban forces battling for control of the country. The Taliban had threatened to disrupt the first round of voting with limited success and also is threatening to disrupt Sunday's balloting. The election crisis comes as U.S. President Barack Obama was said to be waiting for the outcome of the voting before deciding on a proposal to send 30,000 additional soldiers to bolster Afghanistan forces. But Abdullah's withdrawal could be even more embarrassing to Western countries, because it leaves an election with only one candidate -- hardly an example of vibrant democracy. The prospect and promise of democratic government was expected to help the West make its case against Taliban influence. "It is a shocking failure of efforts by the West and other international communities to build a democracy in Afghanistan," said Norine MacDonald of The International Council on Security and Development, a policy research group. Nevertheless, Karzai defiantly refused to consider a unity government with Abdullah and the Independent Election Commission said the election must proceed as scheduled on Nov. 7. "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," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Reuters from Morocco. "We will support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Karzai must fix his government's corruption problem, improve the country's security forces and speed up efforts to improve economic conditions in the impoverished countryside.

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