U.S. expects smoother November 7 election in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expects fewer irregularities in Afghanistan's run-off election and looks forward to working with President Hamid Karzai if he wins, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan said on Friday.
Richard Holbrooke told reporters he anticipated the November 7 poll would run more smoothly than the August presidential election in Afghanistan that was plagued by fraud and vote-rigging.
"It is reasonable to hope that there will be less irregularities this time for several reasons. One, there are only two candidates. Two, there is the experience factor. Three the international community, including the forces under (U.S.) General (Stanley) McChrystal's command, are going to go all out to help make this a success," Holbrooke said.
Taliban violence deterred many from voting in the August poll and there are concerns of more conflict in the run-off vote, with not enough time to secure polling stations for the disputed vote.
"We are hopeful," said Holbrooke of the November poll. "But I am not going to predict what is going to happen. I don't think predicting things in Afghanistan is such a great idea," he added.
Karzai is widely expected to win the second round against his key challenger Abdullah Abdullah, largely because of his strong support among fellow Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.
The United States put heavy pressure on Karzai this week to accept a run-off against Abdullah, a former foreign minister. Holbrooke praised the role of veteran U.S. Senator John Kerry in convincing the incumbent to agree to the November 7 round.
Holbrooke dismissed reports he had strained ties with Karzai, saying their relationship was "fine", and he looked forward to working with Afghan president if he won the second round of voting.
"They (relations with Karzai) are correct. They are appropriate. I speak to him on behalf of my government and he speaks as president of the country. I respect him and if he is re-elected as president on November 7, we all look forward to working closely with him," said Holbrooke.
The run-off election takes place as President Barack Obama is doing a massive review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, including whether to send in additional U.S. troops -- at least 40,000 more -- to fight an increasingly unpopular war with the American public.
Holbrooke said the Obama administration was in the midst of what he called the most intense review of his lengthy diplomatic career but that the strategic goals outlined by Obama in March -- to defeat al Qaeda -- remained.
"In no way, shape or form are the president's options constrained," he said.