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Either Zalmay Khalilzad Is Messing With Christiane Amanpour or the Afghan Runoff Is Off

CNN is reporting that a “Western source close to the Afghan leadership” is saying talks for next week’s runoff election between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah have broken down and over the weekend Abdullah will drop out. Christiane Amanpour’s only other source in the piece is Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and a close Karzai ally. Gee, who might have told Amanpour that Abdullah is dropping out?

How close to Karzai is Khalilzad? Jon Lee Anderson profiled Khalilzad in 2005, and included this paragraph:

In late 2003, Khalilzad was sent to Afghanistan as the U.S. Ambassador. The political capital he has in the Administration—which is considerable—is due to his successes there. While he was in Kabul, Afghanistan held its first free elections in history, which Karzai won handily. Karzai regarded Khalilzad as his close friend and adviser; he was very unhappy when, last April, President Bush nominated Khalilzad to replace Bremer’s successor in Baghdad, John Negroponte. Karzai appealed to President Bush several times to reconsider his decision.

There even used to be a wacky arrangement that the Obama administration considered to give Khalilzad some weird job to help Karzai govern somehow. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Khalilzad is opining to Amanpour that Abdullah will just accept a job in a Karzai government, even though Abdullah has gone on record denying that he’ll accept any such option.

Still, we’ll see over the weekend, I suppose.

Update, 1:15 p.m., Oct. 31: Dexter Filkins reports from Kabul:

Abdullah Abdullah, the chief rival to President Hamid Karzai, will announce on Sunday his decision to withdraw from the Nov. 7 run-off election, effectively handing a new five-year term to Mr. Karzai, according to Western diplomats here and people close to Mr. Abdullah.

But Mr. Abdullah seemed to be keeping his options open until the last second, as he has done through the Afghan political crisis. Those close to him, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said he was still trying to decide whether to publicly denounce Mr. Karzai, whom he has accused of stealing the Aug. 20 election, or to step down without a fight.

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