Afghan leader backs UN election role

Seeking to quell a political crisis surrounding the June 14 election to choose his successor, President Hamid Karzai reversed course Friday and suggested that the United Nations get involved in helping Afghanistan settle disputes over the voting.

In a meeting with Jan Kubis, the UN special envoy for the country, Karzai said the involvement of the international organisation would be “a good step toward ending the problems because any organization that can help Afghanistan in this issue is appreciated,” according to a statement from his office.

Until now, Karzai had dismissed any suggestion that Afghanistan needed help running the election and said that foreigners should stay out of the country’s politics.

The election, whose ballots are still being counted, was a runoff between Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who won the most votes in the first round in April, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who placed a distant second in that balloting.

Abdullah’s followers said early tallies showed suspicious vote totals in the runoff in areas where Ahmadzai is popular, and they raised allegations of widespread fraud. Abdullah has accused the Independent Election Commission of colluding with Ahmadzai and Karzai to steal the election and has boycotted the vote-counting and adjudication process.

His stance has threatened to derail the election, a make-or-break moment for Afghanistan as foreign troops prepare to depart by the end of the year. Thousands of Abdullah’s supporters plan to stage demonstrations across the country against the electoral commission, raising fears that the protests might devolve into violence that could break along ethnic lines.

Abdullah had suggested earlier in the week that a resolution to the crisis might involve the United Nations, a notion that the agency quickly shot down.

The United States, once intricately involved in the day-to-day running of Afghanistan, has also made it clear that the dispute should be sorted out by Afghans. Yet Karzai’s comments revived the possibility that the international community might once more have a hand in the selection of a new Afghan leader.

“We note the comments made by presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah about a potential United Nations role, as well as those of President Karzai today,” said Ari Gaitanis, the UN spokesman in Afghanistan.

“At the request of the parties, the United Nations stands ready to help facilitate an Afghan-led process in which both parties will cooperate, and we would need to hear more details about any proposal.”

Afghan sovereignty

For years, Karzai derided the West for meddling in the country’s affairs, and he fought to keep foreign representatives off the electoral complaints commission, which adjudicates charges of fraud, arguing that it would be a violation of Afghan sovereignty for them to take part.

Karzai has also taken the Us-led coalition forces to task over civilian casualties, assailed his Western allies in terms similar to Taliban rhetoric, and refused to sign a security agreement with the United States that his aides had negotiated.

Some officials in Kabul greeted Karzai’s change of tack with suspicion, and the U.S. State Department reacted cautiously. “We need a clearer understanding of these proposals,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We continue to urge all candidates to work through the legally established Afghan mechanisms to resolve allegations of fraud and misconduct.”

Ahmadzai welcomed the idea. “We don’t have any problem with the United Nations conducting an investigation of the votes,” said Seddiq Patman, a spokesman for Ahmadzai. “Any neutral organisation that wants to investigate in this regard is welcomed by us.” It was not clear whether Afghan law would support any plan for United Nations involvement that would circumvent the electoral system, but given that Abdullah had already essentially repudiated the system, the distinction hardly seemed to matter.

Perhaps more pertinent was whether Abdullah would accept a UN role as a solution to the impasse. “What is important for us is that the process must be given some credibility and legitimacy,” said Wahid Omar, a senior adviser to the Abdullah campaign. He added, “Dr Abdullah is planning to meet with Jan Kubis to talk about the process.”

The prospect of street protests by Abdullah’s supporters remained Friday, with at least one major road blocked by large tents and several hundred protesters. Abdullah’s campaign officials said senior leaders were not involved in organising the protests and were unsure whether they would materialize.

But late on Friday, the Facebook page of one of Abdullah’s vice-presidential running mates exhorted followers to turn out for protests Saturday morning. Afghan and Western officials are worried that the protests could get out of hand and turn violent.

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