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Afghan Envoy Says Karzai Is Open to UN-Run Election

2009-10-23 18:01:58.595 GMT
By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government would allow the United Nations to take charge of a runoff election next month to erase doubts about possible fraud, the Afghan ambassador to Washington said today.

In a sign of friction with members of the Obama administration, Said Amb.Jawad declined in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, to express confidence in Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke has denied reports that he clashed with President Karzai over irregularities in the Aug. 20 vote.

Amb.Jawad also ruled out the likelihood of a deal between President  Karzai and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, to form a coalition government instead of holding the planned runoff Nov. 7, as some observers in Europe and Washington had suggested. Karzai is widely favored to win the rematch; he garnered 48.3 percent, while Abdullah tallied 31.5 percent after fraudulent ballots were thrown out, according to an analysis by Democracy International, a U.S.-based election- monitoring group.
The UN “is welcome if they want” to administer and tally the rematch vote, Amb.Jawad said, as the world body did in the last presidential election in 2004. The runoff vote, which President Karzai endorsed Oct. 20, was triggered by a partial recount that determined 1 million ballots -- one-fourth of those cast -- were suspect, putting President Karzai’s tally below the more than 50 percent needed to win in a first round.

Suspect Ballots

In the aftermath of the fraud allegations, the President Karzai- appointed Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan resisted calls to recount suspect ballots, saying President Karzai had enough votes to win in the first round. The independent Electoral Complaints Commission, which includes three officials appointed by the UN, investigated and determined that 1 million ballots were suspicious.
“We will welcome their increased role and involvement,”
Amb.Jawad said of the UN. It’s in “our best interest to have the second round of the election to be as transparent and fair and democratic as possible.”
Insecurity and threats from the Taliban suppressed voter turnout in about 1,700 polling stations, principally in the south, Amb.Jawad said. Though UN investigators raised concerns about fake votes attributed to those ballot boxes, Amb.Jawad said those stations shouldn’t be closed. “If you close them down, then we would be depriving a large number of Afghans, especially the Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan,” of the right to vote, Amb.Jawad. “It will not be regarded as a fair election.”

Voting Preparations

Ballots are already being packed for shipment to voting sites across the country. More than 200 of the 380 district election coordinators for the first round have been fired for complicity in the fraud, Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the UN mission in Afghanistan, said this week.
Asked about Holbrooke, who was widely reported to have argued with President Karzai following the flawed August election and who was perceived in Afghanistan as advocating a change in the administration, Amb.Jawad refused to say if the U.S. envoy had lost his effectiveness in working with the Afghan government.
“Individuals are coming and going. It will not affect actually the long-term relations between the two countries,” said Amb.Jawad.
He said he has “enjoyed good working relations with Ambassador Holbrooke.”
Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was in Afghanistan last week and it was he who persuaded President Karzai to break the impasse over the disputed election and accept a second round of voting.

Holbrooke ‘Welcome’

“This is a matter up to the United States,” Amb.Jawad said, when asked if Holbrooke could still be effective in his post.
“As far as we are concerned, Ambassador Holbrooke is still the special envoy” and “if he decides to travel to Afghanistan, he’s welcome.”
Holbrooke told reporters at the State Department today that if President Karzai is re-elected, he looks forward to working with him.
“In terms of my relations with President Karzai, they’re fine, they’re correct, they’re appropriate,” Holbrooke said.
As Obama listens to the debate among his advisers on whether to expand the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Amb.Jawad said Afghans would welcome additional U.S. forces on their soil. ‘They’re needed in Afghanistan,” he said.
Declining to say how many more U.S. forces are necessary, he said it will “depend on the quality of the troops and the type of mission they will carry out.”
“We should listen to General McChrystal on what is the best way to win this fight in Afghanistan,” he said.

Regional Stability

Amb.Jawad said it would be a bad idea for the U.S. to shift its focus to other countries where al-Qaeda is present and scale back its involvement in Afghanistan.
“It is not for the sake of safety and security in Afghanistan,” he said. “It has implications for regional stability and global security.”
Regarding complaints that the Karzai government has turned a blind eye to corruption, Amb.Jawad said President Karzai had “heard the message of the international community and the message of the Afghan people” that he needs to “take tougher measures against corruption.”


To contact the reporter on this story:
Indira Lakshmanan in Washington at +1-202-654-1277 or [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jim Kirk at +1-202-654-4315 in Washington or [email protected]

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