Here we go. Abdullah to drop out, Times says US pressure to "bow out gracefully" rather than denounce Karzai for fraud.
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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/world ... nted=print
The New York Times
November 1, 2009
Rival to Karzai Said to Be Ending Afghan Campaign
By DEXTER FILKINS and ALISSA J. RUBIN
KABUL, Afghanistan — Abdullah Abdullah, the chief rival to President Hamid Karzai, plans to announce on Sunday his decision to withdraw from the Nov. 7 Afghan runoff election, handing a new five-year term to Mr. Karzai but potentially damaging the government’s credibility, according to Western diplomats here and people close to Mr. Abdullah.
But Mr. Abdullah seemed to be keeping his options open until the last second, as he has done through the Afghan political crisis. Those close to him, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said Mr. Abdullah was still trying to decide whether to publicly denounce Mr. Karzai, whom he has accused of stealing the Aug. 20 election, or to step down without a fight.
American and other Western diplomats said they were worried that a defiant statement by Mr. Abdullah could lead to violence and undermine Mr. Karzai’s legitimacy, and they were urging him to bow out gracefully. Obama administration officials have scrambled for weeks to end the deadlock, trying to ensure a smooth government transition as President Obama weighs whether to increase the American military presence in Afghanistan.
People close to Mr. Abdullah said that his representative met with Mr. Karzai on Saturday but that they were unable to make any progress on the issue that has brought the two campaigns to loggerheads: Mr. Abdullah’s demands that the Afghan election system be overhauled to head off more fraud in the second round. After the first round of voting, a United Nations-backed panel threw out nearly a million of Mr. Karzai’s ballots — one-third of his total — on the grounds that they were fake.
“Abdullah is not going to participate in the election, full stop,” said an Afghan close to Mr. Abdullah. “He is still trying to figure out what he wants to say.”
His campaign announced that Mr. Abdullah would make a formal statement on Sunday morning — seemingly leaving extra hours for negotiation.
If Mr. Abdullah pulls out, there would still be the question of the runoff vote itself. Afghan officials said it seemed likely that it would simply be canceled; the possibility of Taliban violence alone would appear to render pointless another Afghan election where the winner is known in advance.
Salih Muhammed Registani, one of Mr. Abdullah’s campaign managers, said he thought that Mr. Abdullah would “boycott” the election and, if he did, force its cancellation. “If they hold the election with just one candidate it would be like the former Soviet Union,” he said.
The election deadlock, now in its ninth week, has highlighted the Afghan state’s fragility, as well as showing deep and growing divisions among Afghans. And it has, like so many other recent events here, posed a worsening problem for American and other Western leaders, who have found themselves stuck with a leader who has lost the support of large numbers of Afghans and whose government is widely regarded as corrupt. An Obama administration official said Saturday that the White House had not spoken to Mr. Abdullah and that it had no immediate plans to do so.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling in Abu Dhabi, gave the administration’s only comment. “We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward,” she said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election. It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.”
The concern among diplomats here on Saturday was that Mr. Abdullah would denounce Mr. Karzai even as he bowed out of the race, possibly causing greater anger, and even violence, among his followers. American and Western diplomats were leaning on Mr. Abdullah to pull out with little rancor and to urge his supporters to accept the fact that Mr. Karzai would be president.
Mr. Karzai’s supporters are hoping he will, too. Over the past month, as the evidence of vote stealing piled up, Mr. Karzai’s ministers carried on with extraordinary self-confidence, portraying the fraud, and the runoff itself, as a nuisance that, once overcome, would allow them to get on with their jobs.
“Either he will do it gracefully or not,” Hanif Atmar, the interior minister said, referring to Mr. Abdullah. Mr. Atmar is a supporter of Mr. Karzai, and Mr. Abdullah has accused him of helping to orchestrate much of the fraud.
Against this backdrop of bargaining and diplomatic activity, Mr. Karzai stayed silent publicly. Only last week, Mr. Karzai succumbed to pressure from American and other Western officials, agreeing to accept the verdict of a United Nations-backed commission that put his vote total at under 50 percent.
But Mr. Abdullah concluded that without major changes to the election system, a second round would be as fraudulent as the first. His demands included the firing of the chief of the Independent Electoral Commission, which collected and counted the ballots, and the closing of hundreds of suspected “ghost” polling centers — fictional voting sites that were instrumental in allowing Mr. Karzai’s supporters to manufacture fake ballots.
Mr. Karzai refused. And Mr. Abdullah, it seems, is not relenting. “All the infrastructure that caused the elections to be flawed and wrecked are still there,” said Ahmed Wali Massoud, an Abdullah adviser. “I don’t know how anyone can go to an election with these conditions.”
Those close to Mr. Karzai said the explanation was simpler. Muhammad Ismail Yoon, a university professor close to Mr. Karzai, said that Mr. Abdullah knew that if he went through with a second round, the Afghans would desert him. “No one invests in a loser in Afghanistan,” he said.
Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Kabul, and Jeff Zeleny from Washington.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company