President Hamid Karzai's share of the vote in Afghanistan's presidential election has reportedly fallen to about 47% after an investigation into fraudulent ballots—meaning that he will face Abdullah Abdullah in a runoff if the result is finalized today. One Afghan official called the development "stunning," and a Karzai ally conceded that a runoff was likely. New ballots have already been printed, and the US and NATO want the vote to take place in early November to avoid the harsh Afghan winter.
It's unclear how a second presidential ballot will affect the calculus of the Obama administration as it wrestles with its war strategy in the region. A clear victory for Karzai, after the rampant fraud allegations of the first round, may assuage worries of illegitimacy. But more fraud, or a delay until next spring, could end up sowing more instability. The US, one scholar tells the Washington Post, "would have to go ahead with a strategy decision without knowing the winner."