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Friday, 23 October 2009

23 October 2009

So did you hear those huge sighs of relief as the Afghan president Hamid Karzai finally agreed to fight a second round election run-off?

Admittedly, they weren’t sighs of relief from Afghan voters – I suspect most of them are far more preoccupied with keeping their families safe – but in Washington, London and points west, political leaders and diplomats could finally relax. Crisis over – for now.

Why was it such a crisis? Look at it this way – you’re fighting a difficult, unpopular war with no end in sight. The man you’re ostensibly there to help – and who occupies his Presidential office in no small part because he’s the one you wanted there – has just been found to have pocketed nearly a million votes which, well, which sort of didn’t really exist.

No wonder President Obama isn’t quite ready yet to announce whether he’s going to deploy tens of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan. It helps if the guys you’re helping look as if they’re at least half-way honest. (By the way, can anyone tell me the difference between “examining all the options with due consideration”, which is what Mr Obama apparently does, and “dithering hopelessly”, which is what Gordon Brown is said to be prone to? I merely ask …)

I’m not na├»ve. I don’t expect a perfect electoral exercise in Afghanistan. But I have the impression that Washington and London both felt that Mr Karzai had really let the side down. It was all so obvious, somehow – and he probably would have won anyway, without all the fiddling.

So US vice-president Joe Biden and US special envoy Richard Holbrooke got heavy with him. It seems angry words were spoken, but Mr Karzai is a proud man who doesn’t like being pushed around. For weeks, he refused to budge.

It was Senator John Kerry, the man whom George W Bush beat in 2004, who eventually appears to have been able to sweet-talk the Afghan president into accepting a second round run-off.

Problem solved? Fraid not. Even if the second round is better run than the first round was, and even if Mr Karzai wins a cleaner victory, there’s still the small matter of the Taliban, the warlords and the drug barons to deal with. And let’s not forget: just across the border, the Pakistani army has now swung into action in South Waziristan, hoping that this time it’ll manage to dislodge the tribal and Taliban commanders who so often in the past have defeated it.

So Afghanistan is still a mess. And as the US commander General Stanley McChrystal has pointed out, the people of Afghanistan will be reluctant to offer their wholehearted support to the US-led military effort until they are sure that the international community is in this for the long haul. After all, would you put your eggs in Washington’s basket if you thought there was a chance the US might change its mind within the next few months?

Here’s the point. The outcome of the Presidential election isn’t what matters. What matters is that Washington makes up its mind what it wants to do and then does it. The anti-US forces have a clear objective: foreign troops out. I suspect there’s a need for the same degree of clarity from the international military command.

And on an entirely unrelated matter: for what it’s worth, I don’t think Tony Blair is going to get the job of President of the European Council, even if, eventually, President Klaus of the Czech Republic signs the Lisbon Treaty. I can’t put my finger on anything specific … I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

Oh, and if you thought I’d be writing about the BNP this week, sorry to disappoint you, but I sort of feel that enough has been already been written, at least for now. Perhaps another time …

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