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Sullied victory for Karzai after rival quits presidential race

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wins tarnished election. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sparks criticism for praise of Israeli concessions. Suicide bombing kills dozens in Rawalpindi. South Sudan leader calls for independence. UN chides Congolese army for civilian massacres. All this and more in today's update
Maddy Fry
2 November 2009

The electoral crisis in Afghanistan appears to have reached a precarious and squalid conclusion after the electoral commission announced that Hamid Karzai would be reinstated as president after his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of the race. Abdullah cited ‘strong reservations about the credibility of the process', claiming that Karzai had not heeded his plea for a second round free from corruption and fraud. His abstention caused considerable anxiety among foreign governments with a perceived stake in the outcome of the election, particularly the UK and USA where it has further entrenched fears that the Karzai government will be unable to illicit a commitment from the Afghan people and foreign powers to continue fighting the Taliban. Karzai's reelection comes as NATO powers debate whether to despatch more troops to the country.

Karzai's uncontested second round victory is just the latest in a series of challenges to his legitimacy as a leader: during the first round of voting in the election his majority was revoked due to charges of widespread fraud. Despite the attempts by Washington and the UN to convince Abdullah to agree to a power-sharing deal with Karzai, the former has refused and insists that he is no longer able to continue to the second round of the elections.

Karzai had demanded that the second round of voting would go ahead, despite concerns over its validity in the face of Karzai running uncontested. There are worries that Abdullah's comments will intensify the emphasis on the Afghan government's flaws and thereby continue to weaken its credibility.

The ToD Verdict: Karzai's victory in the election always appeared secure due to the fact that as a Pashtun, he was likely to get most of the votes from the country's largest ethnic group. In contrast Abdullah, despite his apparent popularity, was unlikely ever to have succeeded given his mixed Tajik and Pashtun heritage, drawing as he does most of his support from the minority votes of the former. Karzai had also made numerous deals with groups like the Hazaras and Uzbeks, ensuring that their support added to his majority in the first round. All of this means that Abdullah would have been severely disadvantaged even without widespread voting fraud favouring his rival. The ethnic loyalties paramount in Afghan democracy and the significance of deals struck with at times reputedly unsavoury characters meant the legitimacy of the Karzai administration was always likely to be called into doubt.

A second round was unlikely to remedy the grave and entrenched doubts in the government's competence or legitimacy. With the prospect of further violent disruption perpetrated by the Taliban and low turnout, foreign governments, especially the Obama administration, were dismayed by the prospect of a second round of voting. The US provides the greatest number of military personnel to Afghanistan, and although the US president is under increasing pressure to provide more troops to aid the fight against the Taliban, he originally only swore to do so under the premise that the government in Kabul was democratically valid. Despite the torrent of congragulatory messages from foreign observers, there now seems little chance of rescuing the credibility of the government without notable improvements in the security and economic situation in Afghanistan. Should Obama bow to military demands for more troops, he will face anger from increasingly sceptical Democrats given that attempts at brokering a power-sharing deal between Abdullah and Karzai have collapsed.

Such a deal was likely to have given Abdullah a prominent position under the president, enabling the govermet to purport to represent a broader range of opinion and therefore a more united front in the face of Taliban threat. With a weak government unable to garner the commitment of its people, foreign forces will continue to bear the brunt of the fighting, something which it is feared the Taliban will exploit in order to continue claiming that it is a force of freedom in the face of aggressive Western intruders.

Hamid Karzai currently stands alone, his reputation questioned by those within and outside of Afghanistan. But this is something which all those concerned will most likely have to abide, as there appear to be few alternatives.

Clinton gives backing to Israeli settlement policy

Hilary Clinton has provoked outrage from Palestinian leaders after she praised what she claimed were 'unprecedented' Israeli concessions and called for a resumption of negotiations without demanding a complete freeze of settlement construction in the occupied territories. Despite her claim that Israel had shown 'restraint' in its dealings with Palestinian residents, many within Palestine are unconvinced, as 3,000 houses that were originally frozen are now in the process of construction. This is a clear deviation from the previous stance of the Obama administration, which insisted that Israeli settlements had to stop if peace talks were to go ahead. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has refused to come to the negotiating table unless the expansion stops.

Suicide bombing in Pakistan kills 26

The Pakistani city of Rawalpindi saw another suicide attack today as bombers on a motorbike hit a busy street, killing at least 26 and injuring over 60. It is just the latest in a wave of violence that has erupted through the country, killing what is thought to be at least 300 people so far. It comes as the United Nations has announced that it will be removing its staff based in the north-west area of Pakistan, where most of the violence has been taking place.

Meanwhile, in an effort increase pressure on the Taliban leadership, the Pakistani government has announced that it will offer rewards of $5m for any information leading to the location and capture of three Taliban leaders and fifteen commanders.

South Sudan leader outlines hopes for secession

Salva Kiir, the leader of southern Sudan, has called upon the citizens of the region to vote for secession in an upcoming referendum in order to secure their rights. The secession of the largely Christian south from the country's Muslim north may reignite conflict between the leadership of the south and the Arab government in the north, straining the fragile peace currently existing between the two regions after over 20 years of civil war.

Miliband encourages co-operation with Russia

Although this was the first time a UK foreign secretary had visited Russia for five years, David Miliband spoke positively about the experience, claiming that the two nations could find ‘common ground' on issues such as Iran's nuclear programme. Russo-British relations have been severely strained since the 2006 murder of Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko. Despite not wanting to ‘paper over' their differences, Miliband paid tribute to what he called ‘the importance of the UK-Russia relationship,' stressing the need to recognise the growing commercial and cultural exchanges between the two countries.

UN withdraws support for Congolese army

The United Nations has officially terminated its support for a military unit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, claiming that soldiers deliberately targeted civilians, particularly members of the Hutu ethnic group. Although the UN has been trying to support the army in its struggle to quell the threat from Rwandan Hutu rebels, peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy has insisted that the army has killed over sixty civilians between May and September of this year. Human rights activists in the area have accused the UN of not acting enough in response to their earlier warnings about the targeting of civilians by soldiers.

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