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Holbrooke Says He Expects Afghan Runoff Vote Will Go More Smoothly

  • Andrew Tully

Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke

WASHINGTON -- Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said that he expects the runoff election for Afghan president will go more smoothly than the original vote, and with fewer fraudulent votes cast.

And if incumbent Hamid Karzai is reelected in the runoff on November 7, Holbrooke told reporters at the State Department, he'll welcome working with the Afghan president.

Karzai won the August 20 election over his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, but election observers said that vote was marred by widespread fraud. Holbrooke said he expects the runoff will be less troublesome.

"It is reasonable to hope that there will be less irregularities this time for several reasons: One, there are only two candidates. Two, there's the experience factor. Three, the international community, including the forces under General [Stanley] McChrystal's command are going to go all-out to help make this a success," Holbrooke said.

"Now, they did so on August 20, but there are more forces in the country today and they're ready to be deployed. Not all of the 21,000 troops authorized by President [Barack] Obama were in place by August 20.

Holbrooke said it's important to look beyond voter fraud in the original election and understand that the Afghan Constitution has a remedy for the problem -- and that Karzai agreed to accept that remedy.

"I really do want to underscore something which has not been adequately reported. In the end, the system worked," Holbrooke said.

"It was difficult, it was complicated, it took longer than people expected, but we came out of it with an acknowledgment that no one got 50 percent [of the vote]. And then the constitution and the laws of the country were respected. And I think that deserves acknowledgment."

This week, the Obama administration put heavy pressure on Karzai to accept a runoff, sending Senator John Kerry (Democrat, Massachusetts), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to Kabul to persuade the Afghan leader to persuade him.

There are reports in Washington that Kerry's leading role in securing Karzai's agreement to a runoff may have eclipsed Holbrooke's role as special envoy to the region.

Holbrooke praised Kerry's involvement and the results he achieved, and disputed reports that his relationship with Karzai is strained.

Describing his relations with Karzai as "fine, they're correct, they're appropriate," Holbrooke said he speaks with Karzai "on behalf of my government and he speaks as president of the country. I respect him, and if he is reelected as president on November 7, we all look forward to working closely with him in pursuit of mutual goals. I personally look forward to seeing him in a few days and I have absolutely no problems with him."

Aid Bill 'Pro-Pakistan'

At the October 23 briefing, a Pakistani reporter asked Holbrooke about concern in Islamabad that a new U.S. aid package included conditions that many Pakistanis' see as intruding on their nation's sovereignty.

Holbrooke replied that a new provision of the $7.5 billion aid bill does in fact impose conditions, but on the U.S. government, not Pakistan. These conditions include ensuring that none of the money can be used to "affect the balance of power in the region."

This means none of the aid money may be spent to build defenses against India, Pakistan's neighbor and longtime enemy.

"The Congress wants the secretary of defense, in the case of this bill, and the secretary of state, in the case of [the previous bill], to report to them on certain issues before and during the process of releasing the funds," he said. "But this is a pro-Pakistan bill, and I pray that your colleagues in Islamabad report it accurately."

As the runoff election approaches, Obama is considering changes to his strategy in Afghanistan, a war that began eight years ago to root out its Taliban leadership for harboring Al-Qaeda, which is blamed for the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.

McChrystal, the commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, has requested at least 40,000 more troops to fight the resurgent Taliban at a time when the war is becoming increasingly unpopular among Americans.