Afghan recount: The country’s fate hangs on a new tally of the ballots

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The latest chapter in U.S. efforts to nation-build in Afghanistan is the attempt by Secretary of State John Kerry to salvage the country’s presidential election.

What America wants Afghanistan to do, for three reasons, is elect a credible president to succeed Hamid Karzai, ostensibly in charge of the country since 2001. First, having a democratically elected president means that the United States can leave in an orderly fashion, having been a major military, political and economic presence for 13 years. President Barack Obama would prefer to leave an Afghanistan that does not immediately descend into the sort of chaos that characterizes Iraq, which U.S. forces left in 2011.

The second reason Washington wants a duly elected president in charge is that Mr. Karzai refused to sign the agreement extending the U.S. presence from 2014 to 2016, but both of the candidates still in the race have promised to do so if elected.

The third is the United States still has more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, will leave behind an Afghan army that has been U.S.-trained and -armed to fight the Taliban, and has many projects that have been carried out and many bases and much property to turn over to the Afghans.

As it stands now, the election has been a disaster. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah won the first round in April over former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, but failed to win 50 percent of the votes, prompting a runoff. Mr. Ghani, the candidate of Mr. Karzai, was announced to have finished first in the second round in June. Mr. Abdullah credibly cried “foul.” One suspicious detail is that the vote total in the second round was 23 percent higher than that of the first round. Maybe Mr. Ghani campaigned more effectively or maybe ballot boxes were stuffed, a common phenomenon in Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry hurried to Kabul to try to retrieve the situation. Both candidates agreed to a recount of the 8.1 million ballots and both agreed to form a coalition government when the counting was done. The United States and other nations have the privilege of paying for the recount, which for U.S. troops will be part of the ticket home.

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