Washington President Barack Obama on Tuesday applauded Afghan President Hamid Karzai for accepting election fraud findings that invalidated nearly a third of the votes cast for him in August.
Obama said the breakthrough offers new hope that a credible Kabul government will emerge to partner with the U.S. and NATO in battling a resurgent Taliban insurgency and blocking al-Qaida’s return.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates sounded more pessimistic, saying that the runoff election would not solve the problem of corruption in Afghanistan’s government.
Obama told reporters that he spoke by phone with the Afghan president after Karzai bowed to U.S. pressure and announced that he agreed to a runoff election Nov. 7, acknowledging that he fell short of a majority in the first balloting.
The original vote count had put Karzai well above the 50 percent mark he needed to be declared the outright winner, but a U.N.-based investigation determined that hundreds of thousands of his votes were tainted. Until Tuesday it was unclear whether Karzai would accept the findings and agree to a runoff.
“President Karzai and the other candidates have shown that they have the interests of the Afghan people at heart,” Obama said. “This is a reflection of a commitment to the rule of law and the insistence that the Afghan people’s will should be done.”
In his remarks at the White House, Obama praised the work of U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was joined in talks in Kabul over the weekend by Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Obama also acknowledged the work of American troops fighting in Afghanistan.
In an Associated Press telephone interview from Dubai, Kerry said Tuesday that Karzai had felt deeply aggrieved by the pressure put on him to accept a runoff and the implication of Afghan incompetence.
“President Karzai really deeply believes he had won the election and he felt the process was flawed and he felt that the international community was kind of conspiring to push for a different outcome,” Kerry said.
“He felt very deeply about the flaws of the process. He had people within his government, people within the election commission who felt they were being insulted about putting together a faulty election process. There were a lot of very deep feelings about Afghanistan’s right to run its election, its competency in running it and so forth.”
Obama put a positive spin on Karzai’s decision.
“President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy,” Obama said in a statement issued earlier Tuesday. “The Afghan constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai’s decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people.”