Disputed count: Another snag in Afghanistan impedes progress

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The runoff in Afghanistan’s presidential election is turning into a clown show with no end in sight.

Since none of the eight candidates in the first round received 50 percent of the vote on April 5, a second round followed on June 14, with former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah pitted against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. Although President Hamid Karzai could not run again and had pledged to stay out of the campaign, he is known to favor Mr. Ghani, who finished second to Mr. Abdullah in April.

Then came the snag that is impeding the final choice of Mr. Karzai’s successor, the counting of the votes. Mr. Abdullah is claiming fraud and boycotting the electoral process. He claims that the Independent Election Commission, whose members were appointed by Mr. Karzai, is biased. He has now agreed to a role for the United Nations in adjudicating the outcome, including the counting of the votes, but the process is up in the air.

The choice of an Afghan president with a legitimate mandate is essential to President Barack Obama for ending U.S. military involvement. American withdrawal was scheduled for the end of this year, but Mr. Obama has extended the troop presence to the end of 2016, after his successor has been elected.

It should be noted that U.S. strategy for Afghanistan is not unlike that for Iraq: establishing an elected, democratic government, with the United States having trained and armed national forces that would be prepared to resist the onslaught of the government’s enemies. In Iraq, the enemy was the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; in Afghanistan, it will be the Taliban.

Corruption and tribalism are playing a big part in the conflict over the presidency. Mr. Ghani is a Pashtun, like Mr. Karzai. Mr. Abdullah is half Tajik, Afghanistan’s second largest ethnic group, and half Pashtun.

Whoever wins will need to sign the agreement to make the continued presence of U.S. forces possible, although it is still not clear to many Americans — particularly considering the present seamy wrangling — why Mr. Obama wants to extend the length of the Afghan war from 13 to 15 years.


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