Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, whose apparent theft of the recent election poses huge strategic problems for the U.S. mission in his country, may submit to a runoff election. A second round of voting, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7, would pit Karzai, who is of Pashtun ethnicity, against competitor Abdullah Abdullah, who is Tajik and Pashtun. Karzai's perceived illegitimacy and corruption could exacerbate some of the most challenging aspects of the war. His acquiescence to the possibility of being voted out of office, then, could be a significant gain for American interests. UPDATE: Karzai has agreed to a runoff election.

  • Why Would Karzai Submit?  Foreign Policy's Renard Sexton explores why Karzai might embrace a runoff he couldn't win. "Using our conservative affected-vote estimates, the situation remains fairly damning for Hamid Karzai. Assuming that the results are equal to or less favorable than our estimates, it seems likely that a runoff will ensue. With just four percent of cushion, it would take a miracle for him to walk away with a majority after this, where 20 percent of the vote is fraudulent, much from his tally. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is in the strongest position he has been in thus far, and could conceivably win a run-off held in strict conditions." Sexton asks, "Perhaps a coalition government or tribally negotiated solution is in store?"
  • Possible Karzai-Abdullah Coalition Government  ABC News' Jake Tapper reports that the White House may settle on a coalition government in Kabul to include Karzai as well as Abdullah. "Officials seem less worried today than they were over the weekend that Karzai will refuse to participate in either a run-off or some sort of unity government, in which Karzai appoints some Abdullah supporters as ministers in his administration and adopts some of Abdullah’s platform including anti-corruption efforts and greater efforts at transparency. At times, the formation of a unity government has seemed to have more traction." Tapper explains why, for all his faults, Karzai matters. "Karzai told Clinton he's concerned about how such a move would be received by his supporters, many of whom are Pashtun and from Southern and Eastern Afghanistan – from where the Taliban is having some recruiting successes."
  • Why a Runoff Could Be a Bad Idea  National security expert Juan Cole warns that a runoff presents "the potential for violence" in Afghanistan. "If the runoff is held this fall, it will exclude many Afghans who live in snowy places or high altitudes, since winter is arriving in some of the country," he writes "There is also danger of Pashtun-Tajik violence, since the two ethnic groups are backing different candidates." The Guardian agrees, "There is nothing to guarantee that a second round will not be plagued by the same problems as the first, and the turnout will be lower, because there will be no provincial elections to boost numbers."
  • Viable Alternative Governments  The Guardian has no faith in Karzai, Abdullah, or a power-sharing coalition. "The alternative is to appoint an international chief executive to run the country, making Mr Karzai a titular head," reads the paper's editorial. "Forming an interim government, or convening a loya jirga to include the widest range of participants, could both be ways re-establishing the legitimacy that the Karzai regime has squandered. The new government could buy itself some breathing space if it accompanied a ceasefire offer to the Taliban with a future commitment to the withdrawal of all foreign troops. This is a chance, possibly the last one, for the key Afghan power-brokers to act in the interests of their country, not merely their own interests."