Karzai Challenger Says Runoff Could Restore Faith

Amid allegations of fraud, pressure is mounting on Afghan President Karzai to accept a runoff election or form a power-sharing government. Karzai's main challenger former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah tells Renee Montagne that a runoff would restore the people's faith in the election process.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

So, the question as to whether there would be either a runoff or some alternative political solution is now - appears to be on the horizon. We're going to hear now from the man who would be the one to run against Hamid Karzai if there is a runoff, or opposite him on a table - a negotiating table if there's some political solution. And that was his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. We reached him earlier in Kabul.

Dr. Abdullah, thank you for joining us.

Dr. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH (Presidential Candidate, Afghanistan): You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you: If indeed there is a run-off - that is to say, if indeed it is found that enough votes were fraudulent that President Karzai does not win an outright majority of the vote, what would make that election better than the one that was - just been completed? That is, what would make it more honest and more transparent and more acceptable?

Dr. ABDULLAH: I think there are ways of better supervision. We learned in the past elections where fraud took place and how it happened. There was a problem with our election commission, unfortunately, and there were problems with the government using the state apparatus in favor of the incumbent.

It will not be perfect for future elections, but it will restore the faith of the people on the process. The people will learn, yes, fraud has taken place. It has been corrected, and I think that the turnout will be - the turnout of the people was lower mainly because of the lack of faith of the process.

MONTAGNE: If indeed the election commissions and complaints commissions together do declare the need for a runoff, does that put you in a much better position to form some sort of unity government?

Dr. ABDULLAH: Yes, I think in a situation where Mr. Karzai would have been announced a winner, that would have meant much more than winning one person. That would have meant that fraud will be ignored. But in a situation that fraud will be hardly taken care of, then that, I think, creates new realities on the ground.

MONTAGNE: And one of those new realities is that, in your opinion, that the process worked, to a degree. That is, fraud was attended to. It was acknowledged. There was the next step, at which point it is not necessary to take that next step - that is, a run-off election. There could be a political solution.

Dr. ABDULLAH: Yeah. I think it was. The main issues which we are suffering and the people of Afghanistan are suffering, it's the issue of corruption, corruption in the government. It's the issues of incompetence, lack of shared vision in the other side, that they want to take care of this, then I'll be open to this.

MONTAGNE: If, in fact, you believe that the government, the Karzai government is sincere in tackling these very big problems that have - it has not tackled in the past five years, would there be role in particular that would allow you to have a powerful hand tackling corruption, tackling inefficiency and actually making things work for Afghans? And is there an - a particular role?

Dr. ABDULLAH: No. But I will not go into those details of it before I have a mandate from the people. But I believe that it requires political will as well as the instrument to deal with this. And this will not strike the last sounds(ph) for Afghanistan. If we cannot get it right, then the people of Afghanistan will be disappointed, our friends around the world will be disappointed. So it's important that the road map is very clear.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Abdullah, I have one last question - not about the election, about the larger picture as far as this war in Afghanistan goes. What, in your view, would be the best course for the international community in terms of the level of troop deployed in Afghanistan?

Dr. ABDULLAH: The specifics of it will depend on the military assessments of the generals on the ground, but I can say that a critical partner, which can reach out to some people, a surge in the number of forces at this stage will enable Afghanistan and the international community to create a situation where the trend, which is a deteriorating one in terms of security and stability, would be stopped. So in one or two years' time, we will not be talking about more troops, but about the drawing down of international troops in Afghanistan and one day, no troops in Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: So were there to be a credible government in Kabul, you're saying you would welcome more troops. Do you think that's true of Afghanistan, generally?

Dr. ABDULLAH: Yes, yes. At this stage.

MONTAGNE: Of Afghans generally?

Dr. ABDULLAH: Yes, yes, but not as a sort of permanent solution. At this stage, it is needed and hopefully, we will get to a stage that we need lesser troops.

MONTAGNE: Abdullah Abdullah was the main political challenger to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in this past presidential election. We reached him in Kabul. Thank you for joining us.

Dr. ABDULLAH: You're welcome. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And today, the U.N.-backed complaints commission released its report, showing Hamid Karzai getting less then 50 percent of the vote.

It's NPR.

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