U.S. Afghan Strategy Needs Clear Election Winner
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning. Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks to be headed to an outright victory in the recent presidential election, according to preliminary results. But a U.N.-backed election fraud commission has ordered a partial recount, due to the many allegations of fraud. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on how the U.S. is handling this.
MICHELE KELEMEN: White House and State Department officials are walking a fine line when it comes to Hamid Karzai and the elections in Afghanistan. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley says this is a time for patience.
Mr. IAN KELLEY (Spokesman, State Department): It is very important that these elections are seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and in the eyes of the international community. And I'm not going to prejudge where this whole things comes out. I think it's not going to be a matter of days or weeks, it could be a matter of months to sort out all of these allegations.
KELEMEN: The trouble for the Obama administration is that this is a time when it's considering a new strategy, then hearing advice from the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McCrystal.
James Dobbins, of the RAND Corporation, who was the Bush administration's envoy on Afghanistan, says the Obama administration can't delay its decision making too long. And the allegations of fraud won't help matters.
Mr. JAMES DOBBINS (RAND Corporation): Well, it's certainly come at a poor time, since it's exactly the moment when they have to consider General McCrystal's reported requests for additional troops. So I'm sure they wish the two hadn't coincided quite so precisely. It certainly will make the engagement in Afghanistan more controversial.
KELEMEN: Already, an expert at the Center for American Progress, Brian Katulis, is arguing that this is not the time to invest more in Afghanistan with questions hanging over the presidential vote.
Mr. BRIAN KATULIS (Senior fellow, Center for American Progress): I think it would be foolish for the Obama administration to make decisions to increase our investments, whether it's U.S. taxpayer money or U.S. troops, without getting a stronger commitment from the Afghan leader that emerges from these elections on fighting narco trafficking, on dealing with the corruption issues - which are extensive - on dealing with the governance challenges.
KELEMEN: Because of all of those issues, the Obama administration has had a tense relationship with President Karzai. Katulis, who observed the vote in August, says the Obama administration will probably work behind the scenes for a political settlement that brings in Karzai's main election rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
Mr. KATULIS: If the Afghan institutions certify these results I don't think they have any option but to work with Karzai. But I wouldn't be surprised that they may actually look to some sort of solution that tries to bring Abdullah Abdullah into the fold and some of the other candidates.
KELEMEN: A former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, thinks it would be a mistake to make political deals behind the scenes. He says the Obama administration should tone down its personal disputes with Karzai and stay focused on the election process to make sure that the complaint commission has the support it needs to do its job.
Mr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (Former U.S. ambassador, Afghanistan): That's the challenge of the diplomacy for the Obama administration now, to get everyone to cooperate with that complaint commission and to get everyone in Afghanistan not to resort to violence but to work with the commission and cooperate with it.
KELEMEN: The former ambassador, who now heads a consulting company, Khalilzad Associates, says any military strategy will depend on how the politics play out.
Mr. KHALILZAD: The danger is, that an election that's perceived as not credible, could lead to new fault lines in Afghanistan - between north and south, between the supporters of Abdullah Abdullah and President Karzai and the administration in Afghan. The world doesn't need additional sources of violence in Afghanistan.
KELEMEN: The State Department has been calling on all sides to be patient until the allegations of fraud are fully vetted.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.