The Obama administration is widely seen to be dithering on the Af-Pak file even as reports say it may be a couple of weeks before the administration announces its new direction.
Meanwhile, the momentum in Afghanistan seems to be toward a run-off election, despite Khalilzad's claim that the Obama administration wants to see a deal between Karzai and Abdullah to avert a run-off. There are rumours to the contrary, however, as Julius Cavendish relates.
Reporting for The National (UAE), Cavendish writes from Kabul:
Turnout estimates [in the first round of the election] were as low as five per cent in some areas hit particularly hard by the insurgency... Although both candidates claim more voters will turn out on November 7, the reality is that there is little appetite for more voting, even if the insurgents have less time to organise a campaign of intimidation...Note that Cavendish says diplomats don't expect a deal between Karzai and Abdullah. Karzai, however, might be hinting at that:
The UN has told the [Independent Election Commission] that 200 of the 380 district election chiefs who helped run things first time round ignored procedures or were actually complicit in the cheating and must not be hired again. But a shake-up of the leadership a fortnight before voting has the potential to be a political and managerial nightmare, so senior architects of the first round fraud will remain in place...
Dr Abdullah has said that he will only take part in the runoff if certain conditions are met. He has not yet said what those are, and given the proximity of the runoff, this sounds more like an escape clause than a serious anti-corruption programme.
Rumours persist that the two candidates will cut a deal but the probability of this happening is diminishing. Diplomats say what dialogue there is between the two camps – there are whispers of a meeting between Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah within the next day or two – has the tenor of preparation for post-election discussion, not an 11th- hour compromise. (link)
"If (Abdullah) wants to come and work in my government, he is most welcome. I'm known for consensus and building it and for inclusivity, and that's a good trademark," he told CNN in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday. (link)