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Will Karzai play ball?

Mark Mardell | 18:10 UK time, Monday, 19 October 2009

President Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, has successfully avoided calling for a second round in the Afghan elections, dancing nimbly around all the questions at his morning briefing. Apparently, the Downing Street spokesman did much the same thing. Mr Gibbs did repeatedly stress the need for a "legitimate" Afghan government, and a "credible partner". He said all the troops in the world wouldn't solve the situation without a partner who was willing to help.

The one senior figure who has explicitly called for a second round is the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt: "If these results point towards the need for a second round, a second round must be held."

Is a difference of opinion emerging? Probably not. Western diplomats say that any pressure for a second round doesn't necessarily mean that one will happen or that it is their preferred solution. While a second vote would give the victor more legitimacy, the United States and the United Kingdom both really want Hamid Karzai to establish a more broadly based government, by including his rival Abdullah Abdullah.

What no-one can answer at the moment is what happens if Mr Karzai refuses to play ball. The hope in Washington is that he simply needs America too much to ignore its wishes. But if he does refuse a run-off vote, refuses a coalition, no-one can tell me what would happen next.

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