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Zakaria: Karzai likely to win again

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Karzai on McChrystal
  • Zakaria says he expects Afghan president to win runoff
  • In interview, Karzai assured Zakaria that runoff would take place
  • Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sunday 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET

Watch Fareed Zakaria's exclusive interview with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on this week's "GPS" on CNN, Sunday 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET.

New York (CNN) -- Afghanistan's president is downplaying accusations of widespread fraud in his country's recent elections, but he's emphasizing the importance of a runoff for the sake of ensuring peace and stability in his nascent and war-torn democracy.

"We must have a second round," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a taped and exclusive interview for the "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" show that airs Sunday on CNN. "If we don't do that, we would be insulting democracy. And I pledge to respect the vote of the people."

In the first interview since a runoff was announced, Karzai said there were so many claims of widespread corruption in the election two months ago that he started to believe that the voting was fraud-laden. In fact, he said, he too began to doubt the results.

Fareed Zakaria spoke to CNN about his exclusive interview.

CNN: So was Karzai out of options; is that why he finally accepted a runoff?

Fareed Zakaria: In my interview, he disputed the notion he was forced into a corner, and he gave a little insight into what he says was his decision-making process. He told me he needed to support a runoff election to prevent civil tensions within Afghanistan from escalating.

"Afghanistan had gone through so many years of difficulty, so many years of internal strife backed by foreign players, and I felt as if Afghanistan was entering that period again. I felt as if Afghans were pitching one against the other, and for that reason, and for the reason of safety and security of the Afghan people and as I mentioned earlier, cementing democratic traditions in Afghanistan, I went to agree to a second round, which I believe is good for Afghanistan, which will eventually be good for all of us."

CNN: So now that Karzai has signed off on the plan, will the runoff really happen in two weeks?

Zakaria: There has been a lot of concern that Karzai will be a spoiler in the process. His main rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, has been amongst critics very vocal in wondering if Karzai will allow the runoffs to proceed; will he either cite security concerns or delay the process so long that Afghanistan's harsh winter would make the logistics of an election impossible?

I talked with the president, and he assured me that the election will definitely take place. "We must have a second round. If we don't do that, we'll be insulting democracy and a pledge to respecting the vote of the people."

CNN: Is there any talk of President Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah working together?

Zakaria: There have been calls for a national unity government that would bring in other parties. You may remember something similar happened in Kenya, and we discussed the process with Kenyan [Prime Minister Raila] Odinga on "GPS" earlier this year. President Karzai has indicated he would work with Abdullah after the election: "If he wants to come and work in my government, he is most welcome."

However, the phrasing does make it seem he would welcome Abdullah in a support role rather than as an equal in a coalition government.

CNN: Do you think President Karzai will win the second election?

Zakaria: It is difficult to imagine a scenario where he does not. However, President Karzai may need to expand his government to include other challengers. Especially if Abdullah Abdullah performs strongly in the runoff.

The president mentioned that after the first election, he had a good meeting with one of his challengers, Ashraf Ghani. Ghani was very critical of the president on the campaign trail, and I asked Presient Karzai if he would invite Ghani to serve in his government following their cordial meeting. He responded, "Any Afghan who wants to come and work in Afghanistan and do it patriotically is welcome." If the United States and other governments exert pressure again to create a national unity coalition, President Karzai has left the door open for bringing in his presidential rivals.

CNN: The other big issue in Afghanistan is [U.S. Gen. Stanley] McChrystal's request for more U.S. troops there. How does President Karzai feel about the prospect of increased military forces in his country?

Zakaria: He was the astute politician and was cagey in his response. He was very supportive of increased troops for providing increased security within the country but simultaneously aware they should not appear as though they are occupying the country. "The arrival of forces must enhance the sense of protection of the Afghan people,and must give protection to the Afghan people. It must not be a capture and kill pursuit of the Taliban; it must be one that provides protection to the country and must also lead to the enhancement of the abilities of the Afghan military and security forces. Therefore they have to come as liberators as they did in 2002 and not otherwise."

CNN: What struck you most about the interview you had with President Karzai?

Zakaria: That he knows that the heart of the trouble facing Afghanistan is the disenfranchisement of the Pashtun population. They are 50 percent of the country's population and make up 100 percent of the insurgency. This is not to say all Pashtuns are participating in the insurgency, but the members of the insurgency come from this ethnic group. A military strategy against them is not sufficient. A political situation is needed. Whether President Karzai will be able to solve it remains an issue. However, since he knows this is the key issue, I hope he will focus his energies on finding a political strategy to engage the Pashtun population. It is the root to success in the country.