Our Karzai Problem

Former UN Afghanistan official Peter Galbraith throws some more cold water in this week's Time:

There is no easy solution to Afghanistan's election mess. If the ECC removes enough fraudulent votes, Karzai will fall below 50%, and there will be a second round of voting. However, the factors that caused problems on Aug. 20 ghost polling stations, corrupt election staff and a partisan commission are still present. Dealing with those factors will require leadership that the head of the U.N. mission has yet to demonstrate.

If Karzai emerges the winner of the rushed and incomplete audit process now under way, Afghanistan's internal peace will depend on Karzai's opponents accepting or at least tolerating the outcome. Karzai's main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, has said publicly that he does not believe the U.N.'s envoy is neutral. By failing to address the obvious fraud in Afghanistan's elections, the U.N. has lost credibility that is desperately needed for it to act as a postelection peacemaker.

Karzai's opponents are likely to be skeptical that the complaints process can change a fraudulent election into a good one. The Obama Administration should focus on persuading Karzai to adopt some of the opposition's program, including arrangements for genuine power-sharing by Afghanistan's diverse ethnic groups. Even so, Afghanistan's flawed elections have now become a major drag on Obama's new strategy, which just six months ago seemed to offer real hope for that war-torn land. It need not have turned out this way.