Afghan President Agrees To Run-Off Election

Hamid Karzai has agreed to take part in an election run-off in Afghanistan, triggering a scramble to hold a second round of voting in just over two weeks.

After days of intense international pressure, he finally accepted a report which found hundreds of thousands of his votes were fake and agreed to face his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, in a two-man contest on Nov 7.

The international community and Afghan officials now have a fortnight to organise the new ballot as winter approaches and large swathes of the country remain under Taliban control. British troops will again be asked to provide security for voters in Helmand province.

Looking tired after days of intense diplomatic wrangling, Mr Karzai said: “We believe that this decision of the Independent Election Commission is legitimate, legal and constitutional and that it strengthens the path towards democracy.”

Western backers desperately lobbied Mr Karzai to accept the results of the fraud inquiry after he threatened to reject a decision he claimed was a foreign plot to weaken him.

Gordon Brown is understood to have spoken Karzai three times in the last 48 hours and warned him he risked losing international support if he refused to take part in a second round.

The prime minister described Mr Karzai’s decision as “statesmanlike”, while Barack Obama said it was “in the best interests of the Afghan people”.

However, diplomats privately fear the second round will be as riddled with fraud and as violent as the August 20 poll.

In related news, my man Ban learned some lessons from this madness.

The U.N. secretary-general says having learned “valuable and painful” lessons from the widespread fraud that plagued the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential elections, the United Nations would do its best to assist the Afghan people in having a credible and free second round.

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