A new alliance forms just as fighting season begins
Abdullah's the man
AFGHANISTAN announced the results of the first round of its presidential election on May 15th. Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, gained 45% of the vote. Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, secured 31.6% and Zalmai Rassoul, another former foreign minister, got 11.4%. The election will now move to a run-off between Dr Abdullah and Mr Ghani, due on June 14th.
The manoeuvring for the second round had already begun before the announcement, as Mr Rassoul, aware he would finish third, threw his support behind Dr Abdullah on May 11th. The move boosted the former ophthalmologist's chances of becoming president. Dr Abdullah is of mixed Pushtun-Tajik ethnicity but is widely seen as Tajik, so the endorsement from Mr Rassoul, from the dominant Pushtuns, is valuable. Mr Ghani is also a Pushtun.
Now debate will focus on whether a run-off should take place at all. In the previous election in 2009, under international pressure, Dr Abdullah stood down after the first round, even though his opponent, Hamid Karzai, did not reach 50%. Mindful of the security risks and the costs of a run-off, and of the double-digit gap between them, some suggest Mr Ghani should do the same, but he has pledged to fight on.
A run-off will give the new president a mandate, but it will also let the Taliban reassert themselves. Having failed to disrupt the first round, they signalled their intentions on May 12th, launching a spring offensive with attacks across the country. The second round seems sure to be bloodier. The Taliban also promised to target the remaining foreign troops, as well as government institutions. No wonder that both Dr Abdullah and Mr Ghani have pledged to sign a security pact with America to allow 10,000 foreign soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after the majority leave by the end of the year.