KABUL, Afghanistan – Hamid Karzai was declared the winner by default Monday in Afghanistan’s fraud-marred presidential election, increasing the pressure on President Barack Obama to end his marathon deliberations at a time when a scaled-down version of his commander’s ambitious plans is gaining support.
Obama welcomed Karzai’s election with as much admonishment as praise, telling America’s partner in war that he expects a more serious effort to end corruption in his government and ready his nation to defend itself when international troops ultimately withdraw.
“I emphasized that this has to be a point in time in which we begin to write a new chapter,” Obama said in describing his congratulatory phone call to Karzai.
The U.S. president said that when Karzai offered back assurances, Obama told him that “the proof is not going to be in words. It’s going to be in deeds.”
Afghan politicians with ties to Karzai said they expected him to try to restore credibility abroad by offering Cabinet posts to supporters of his chief rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
But Obama’s words appeared to be a sharp warning to Karzai that the American public would not support a significant increase in resources unless it is satisfied that a credible Afghan government is fully committed to tackle the problems of corruption and bad governance which have swelled insurgent ranks.
The messy end to the election left the United States and its partners with the difficult task of helping the Karzai government restore legitimacy both at home and abroad.
Public support for the war is already dropping in the U.S. and other countries with troops in Afghanistan. The image of a fraud-stained Afghan partner will not help reverse the slide.
Karzai was declared the winner one day after Abdullah dropped out of the scheduled Nov. 7 runoff. Abdullah said the election would not have been fair and accused the Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission of bias.
The election now decided, House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama has no reason to wait any longer to decide whether to accept recommendations by his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for up to 80,000 more troops.
“The White House has no further pretext for delaying the decision on giving Gen. McChrystal the resources he needs,” Boehner said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that Karzai’s win is a factor in the coming decision but did not say the timetable for an announcement has changed.
Obama is considering several options to increase the number of troops fighting in Afghanistan, including McChrystal’s preference of about 40,000 additional U.S. forces next year. U.S. officials have said that a scaled-down version of that request is gaining favor but that no final decision has been made.