As President Hamid Karzai's decided to yield to U.S. pressure and accept an election runoff Obama's administration got an opputunity to settle on a strategy for dealing with Afghanistan. That also concerns Pentagon's request to send thousands more troops to the fight.
The hard-won agreement reached Tuesday sets an 18-day clock ticking on a vote that many fear will also be marred by fraud and violence. But while acknowledging that the runoff Nov. 7 will probably be an imperfect exercise, U.S. and allied officials are hopeful that the showdown between Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah will produce a government that can be a credible partner in the struggle to stabilize the country.
In a sign of the administration's relief, President Obama swiftly telephoned Karzai to congratulate him. He said in a White House appearance that the decision reflected "a commitment to rule of law and an insistence that the Afghan people's will should be done," The Los Angeles Times reports.
Meanwhile, analysts have said that Karzai is likely to win a second round, because as a Pashtun -- Afghanistan's largest ethnic group -- he has grassroots support in the tribal belts of the south and east.
Many Afghans see Karzai as experienced and that his re-election will at least keep the country stable at a time of rising violence.
If Karzai does win the run-off his legitimacy will be tainted by the fraud allegations of the first round. He may feel obliged to offer Abdullah a strong position in the government in order to appease his rival's supporters, Reuters reports.
Reuters quoted U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique in Kabul as saying. "More than half of the district field coordinators are being replaced to prevent any attempted fraud or because there have been complaints made against them by candidates and observers."
Karzai's decision to accept a run-off has eased tensions with the West and removed one stumbling block for U.S. President Barack Obama as he weighs whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban.
Many within Obama's Democratic Party have spoken out against sending more troops, while Republican opponents say his lengthy deliberations on a new strategy are undermining U.S. troops and emboldening the Taliban, Reuters reports.