‘Mr Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, hail from different ethnic groups and different regions. If neither wins outright in round one on 20 August, officials fear Afghanistan could be engulfed by violence reminiscent of the civil war of the 1990s.
"The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy," an Afghan analyst said. Mr Abdullah's campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations should Mr Karzai win, insisting that he could only do so fraudulently.
Mr Abdullah's supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but "with Kalashnikovs", should the President win a second term. Although Mr Karzai, a Pashtun, is still the favourite, his supporters fear that a third candidate, Ashraf Ghani, could split the Pashtun vote, depriving the President of the 51 per cent share he needs to win, and opening the door to Mr Abdullah.
Yesterday, details emerged of how the President was trying to join forces with Mr Ghani to unite the Pashtun vote and knock Mr Abdullah out of the race. Officials said the President had offered Mr Ghani a job as chief executive – a new post described as similar to prime minister. "If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as President and Ghani as chief executive," a campaign official told The Independent last night.’ Sectarian violence would strengthen the Taliban, but Mr Karzai is not the man for the job. In between watching his favourite sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine, Karzai obsesses about an Anglo-American plot to return the Taliban to power – and we think Brown is delusional. What strikes me most about this deal, which apparently has the support of Richard Holbrooke, is the implication that the coalition and Afghan security forces would not be able to stop sectarian violence and maintain stability. Owing to Afghanistan’s ethnic divisions, it is doubtful if those goals can ever be achieved.