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Afghan Runoff: Will It Make A Difference?

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As Afghanistan hastily prepares for a runoff election on November 7, amidst an increase in Taliban attacks, questions persist over what impact the long-discussed runoff will have on Afghanistan and U.S. relations with the war-torn country. Further complicating matters, President Hamid Karzai's rival, Abdullah Abdullah, has hinted at boycotting the runoff if his demands are not met.

The Telegraph reports that Abdullah is "increasingly likely" to pull out of the runoff.

His ultimatum demanding the sacking of the country's chief election official and suspension of key ministers alleged to be complicit in fraud has been ignored so far by Hamid Karzai.

Negotiations between the two have reached deadlock, with both men refusing to make concessions.

HuffPost bloggers with an expertise in Afghanistan have shared their views on the runoff and how a possible boycott would affect U.S.-Afghan relations.

Finding anyone here who believe the November 7 voting will happen is difficult. Conventional wisdom among Afghans and internationals alike now seems to argue that:

1) The same IEC members, the same governors and the same government officials are in place, so why would Dr. Abdullah or anyone else think election improprieties would disappear?

2) Dr. Abdullah seems increasingly likely to pull out of the voting as a result.

3) The November 7 voting will then be called off.

Among UN workers here in Kabul there is a palpable sense of fear following Wednesday's attack. Many non-essential UN staff is exiting the country until the voting date passes. And internationals who heard the shooting Wednesday morning while cooking their breakfast or getting ready for work now look over their shoulder and at their front doors with a growing sense of vulnerability.

And meanwhile, Afghans push on. Businesses open their doors and schools throughout the country welcome students each day. Maternal health efforts document progress across Afghanistan. Women entrepreneurs strengthen their business plans and agriculture programs help farmers produce higher quality products they can sell across their borders for higher prices.

Afghans watch as the foreigners pour out. And they express gratitude to those who stay. November 7 is coming, but no one is yet sure what it will bring. And everyone is braced for whatever comes.

- Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a former ABC News journalist currently researching a book in Afghanistan

The likelihood of Abdullah Abdullah boycotting the elections is high. A likely scenario is that he will refuse to take part in the next round because it won't be a fair election. The IEC will then declare President Hamid Karzai the winner, despite the fact that it is unclear under Afghan law if they even have that authority. Abdullah will then reject the IEC's decision for this reason. There will be an extended period of stalemate, during which Abdullah may try to press for a deal. The United States might pressure Karzai under such a scenario since at that point it will be anxious to end the months of deadlock (things have been in limbo since August).

A deal for Abdullah would likely include key governorships for his supporters and some ministries, but probably not a position for himself. He instead would try to position himself as a viable opposition candidate for the future.

This is all highly speculative, of course. He could just be bluffing, using talk of a boycott to better his bargaining position (his team has been in talks with Karzai's).

- Anand Gopal, journalist who frequently writes about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Governance is not the only thing at stake. I'm most concerned that civilians are already being seen as bargaining chips in the coming runoff. The increasing violence is rightfully causing many to fear for their lives. Last week, after the UN guest house was attacked, a Taliban spokesperson said, "We have said that we would attack anyone engaged in the process and today's attack is just a start." That puts a target on anyone going to the polls, any poll worker, any monitor. I worry that we're going to see the Taliban create even more chaos, which puts even civilians deciding not to get involved in the elections in danger.


- Sarah Holewinski, the Executive Director of CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict), an organization working with warring parties to help civilians they have harmed in combat.

The root causes of violence and instability in Afghanistan go far beyond the question of this last election or this runoff. For almost 100 years the political classes in Kabul have attempted to subordinate the landlords and Mullahs of the countryside. First these modernization efforts were called Constitutional Monarchy, then Republicanism, then Communism, now Democracy.

Each time it was the same: pave the roads, collect taxes, expand education, suppress banditry, limit the autonomy of the rural landlords and Mullahs. All good things. But each time it failed - even when supported by powerful outsiders.

Rural Afghanistan just wants to be left alone. The recently resigned dissident State Department official Matthew Hoh called their ideology "Valley-ism." Absolutely correct. We should oblige them and go away.

In Kabul, corruption is now endemic. The political class is rotten almost to the core. Afghanistan is a kleptocracy, were bribes are demanded for every service. We should not expect a different style of rule from Abdullah Abdullah, were he to win the run off. He shares the same pedigree as Hamid Karzai. He was a political adviser to Masaud, one of the drug-running, mujahedin terrorists -- backed by the CIA, Saudi and Pakistan - who threw out the last invaders, the Soviets.

America needs to prepare an orderly, negotiated de-escalation and departure from Afghanistan. American defeat in Afghanistan is inevitable. The process and aftermath can be ugly, or it can be extremely ugly. Obama's escalation is madness, exactly the wrong thing to do. This election runoff will not create a "credible partner" in Afghanistan. It is time to leave, and do so as responsibly as possible.

- Christian Parenti, American journalist and author who has reported from Afghanistan.

What do you think of the Afghan runoff? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. We will include the most insightful and thoughtful comments in this post. What is the likelihood that Abdullah Abdullah will boycott the runoff? What would the Obama administration do if that happens? How would and should a boycott affect Obama's Afghan war strategy? Will a runoff make a difference anyway?