Unity Government May Be More Practical Than Runoff Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has just returned from a trip to Afghanistan. He held a series of meetings with President Hamid Karzai and presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah. Khalilzad tells Renee Montagne that a unity government may be more practical than conducting a runoff election.
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Unity Government May Be More Practical Than Runoff

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Unity Government May Be More Practical Than Runoff

Unity Government May Be More Practical Than Runoff

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The former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan has also been meeting with Karzai and Abdullah to help chart a course through this political crisis. The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was born and raised in Afghanistan, shares a history of with both leaders. I spoke with him yesterday, after he just returned to Washington, D.C. from meetings with the two men in Kabul.

Mr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): I was urging everyone to move on in terms of forming a government or having another election, because the constitution calls for an election in case no candidate in the first round gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Now there is a discussion that it might be better or more practical to have a joint government between the two leading candidates rather than another election, and that's one of the big issues over the coming days.

MONTAGNE: How likely is that - let's start with President Hamid Karzai - that he would accept, bring into his government, give real power to his strongest challenger? That was Abdullah Abdullah.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Yes, that, to me, that he is willing to bring him in, but he thought only after he had been declared to be the winner. And as far as Minister Abdullah Abdullah is concerned, he said that he would enter negotiations in terms of formation of a new government if the election goes to a second round.

But I want to also emphasize that negations about the formation of the government, who will have what position, what the structures of the authority of the new government would be can be very difficult and protracted. So agreement on a government will not be easy, either.

MONTAGNE: If the National Election Commission does agree with the U.N.-backed complaint commission that President Karzai did not get 50 percent of the vote, what choice would he have?

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, he could challenge it, and perhaps it will go to the Afghan Supreme Court. He could accept it and then face two choices: a unity government with Mr. Abdullah, or a runoff. At the present time, it appears that the preference of the international community is for him to accept and to enter into negotiations about forming a unity government. And he faces significant decisions in the coming hours and days.

MONTAGNE: Did your meeting sort of leave you hopeful that the two sides could reach a resolution?

Mr. KHALILZAD: I came away concerned that this could be done easily, that a strong government could be formed, although that's what's necessary. And I'm not sure whether they can.

MONTAGNE: Well, a unity government is not a magic wand. You know, is it possible that the two sides would get together in a sort of unity government and that wouldn't help anything?

Mr. KHALILZAD: Possible, but it's better than the alternative in the current circumstances which is a government by Mr. Karzai alone, whose the legitimacy is being questioned by the international community and by a large segment of the Afghan population.

Certainly, a unity government would have tensions in it. It could be a weak government, but if they could form a strong unity government, of course, that'll be what the situation would require.

MONTAGNE: Just one last question. What about Afghans? Would a unity government be viewed as legitimate, regardless of how competent or how well it worked? I mean, compared to the current situation, would a unity government make that difference?

Mr. KHALILZAD: I think they would like to see this wrangling over the election come to an end, and for a government that is competent and capable to be formed. That's what they wish for, not surprisingly. The last two months where the elections have been contested have had a negative effect in terms of the security, in terms of even the economy. A lot of decisions are not being made. People are waiting for what will happen. They want this to end as quickly as possible.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador, thank you very much.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, thank you, Renee. It's nice to talk with you.

MONTAGNE: Zalmay Khalilzad is the former ambassador to Afghanistan. He is now chairman and CEO of the advisory firm, Khalilzad Associates.

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