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British Official Thinks Afghan Run-off Election Will Be Credible

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Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his main political opponent Abdullah Abdullah have agreed to a run-off election in Afghanistan next month. The United States is waiting for the political outcome before deciding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. Britain has the second biggest troop contingent behind the United States, and its foreign secretary is confident the runoff election will be competitive and credible.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband told British radio he believes Afghanistan's run-off election will go well.

"I think that it is possible to have a credible election that provides a legitimate expression of the will of the Afghan people," he said.

Afghanistan's first round of voting in August was marred by widespread fraud. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told BBC television that was a painful lesson, and the United Nations will make changes for next month's vote.

"We will try to replace more than 200 district officials who have been implicated or who have not been following correct guidelines to make this election transparent and credible," he said.

Miliband welcomed the U.N. decision.

"I think the measures than Ban Ki-moon has announced are important and I think the recognition of both the leading candidates, president Karzai and Dr. Abdullah that there have been attempts at widespread fraud is important in that respect," he added.

Miliband says it is not just who wins that is important, but also that the new government has a vision for the future.

"Line one of the plan for the future of Afghanistan must be not just a credible government, not just a legitimate government, but a government with a coherent program, a consensus program for the future of the country," he explained.

The foreign secretary hopes the new government will win the confidence of the Afghan people.

"What we do need is Afghan governance of a kind that is credible in the eyes of its own people. We need Afghan security forces that are able to defend their own country. We need a political system that divides the insurgency and brings those that are willing to live within the constitution within it. And finally, we need a relationship with its neighbors, above all with Pakistan, in which all recognize that Afghanistan has got to be a neutral state not a client state," he said.

Britain has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, the second largest force behind the United States. Last week, Britain's prime minister announced he would send 500 more soldiers, if other NATO allies follow suit and the Afghan government expands its army.

"The reason we are in Afghanistan militarily is that we know the consequences of allowing the bad lands of Afghanistan, of the Afghan-Pakistan border to become an incubator for international terrorism," he explained. "The lives of our soldiers are being put on the line because of our own security and that is the only reason that a government in any country would put our soldiers lives in danger."

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has asked U.S. President Barack Obama for up to 40,000 more troops. The president has been reluctant to make a decision while Afghanistan's political future was in doubt. Fraud, insecurity and the weather all threaten to make next month's run-off elections difficult for one of the world's newest democracies.