October 24th, 2009 09:17 EST
Millions of People Risked Their Lives to Vote in Afghanistan
By Stephen Kaufman
Washington - The Obama administration`s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan says Afghanistan`s runoff election likely will have fewer irregularities than the August 20 presidential and provincial council vote, and added it should be acknowledged that the electoral system set up under the country`s laws and constitution has worked in the face of serious challenges.
Speaking in Washington October 23, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said that in the November 7 runoff between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, it is "reasonable to hope that there will be less irregularities" than in August.
"One, there are only two candidates. Two, there`s the experience factor," he said. In addition, there have been additional international forces deployed to Afghanistan, who are now ready to provide assistance, and international observers, including from the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, are being invited to participate.
"So, we`re hopeful," Holbrooke said.
But the special representative said that despite the irregularities that accompanied the August 20 vote, "where we are is right where the process dictated it should be," after election authorities declared that none of the president candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote, necessitating a runoff election.
"A lot of people went out to vote. Millions of people risked their lives in the face of an overt threat against them, if they voted, by the Taliban. They deserve great credit," Holbrooke said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said "she can`t think of a country in that stage of development, in those conditions of warfare, which had ever attempted an election under more difficult circumstances," he said.
"In the end, the system worked. It was difficult, it was complicated, it took longer than people expected; but we came out of it with an acknowledgment that no one got 50 percent, and then the constitution and the laws of the country were respected. And I think that deserves acknowledgement," he said.
Holbrooke also praised the recent diplomatic efforts of Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who held talks with both Karzai and Abdullah prior to their agreeing to participate in the runoff vote. Kerry had done "a phenomenal job," Holbrooke said.
CLINTON VISITING PAKISTAN SOON
State Department Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley told reporters before Holbrooke`s briefing that Secretary of State Clinton hopes to visit Pakistan soon, but did not announce specific travel dates due to security reasons.
Holbrooke said the secretary would meet with "the leadership of the country, the leading members of the opposition, civic society, businessmen and as many people as she can in a limited period of time."
Clinton will also discuss the ongoing Pakistani military operations against Taliban elements in South Waziristan. Holbrooke said he did not have any specific information on how the offensive was going, but said U.S. officials are "very impressed with the Pakistani resolve" in the struggle against violent extremists.
"They know what the stakes are. And having spent a lot of time with General [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and his colleagues, I know how determined they are," he said. Kayani is Pakistan`s chief of army staff.
A transcript of the Holbrooke briefing ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2009/October/20091023170158eaifas0.38401.html ) is available on America.gov.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)