The slow tally of Afghanistan's election returns and the mounting accusations of fraud are raising questions about credibility of the August 20 election. Analysts in Washington warn if the election is widely viewed as illegitimate, the Obama's administration's policy in Afghanistan would suffer a major setback.
As the votes continue to be tallied in Afghanistan, it is still not known if incumbent President Hamid Karzai will win outright - or face a second round against the probable runner-up, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
But amidst the vote counting, the rising claims of fraud are clouding the election. The number of fraud claims have doubled since the August 20 vote - and resolving them could even delay the announcement of official results.
Some Afghan experts in Washington say all this is raising questions about the credibility of election, which they consider crucial. The experts describe it as the last chance for the international community to put the country onto a democratic path.
Bruce Riedel at the Brookings Institution advises the Obama administration on Afghanistan. He says, "This really is a last chance. We have had three chances to get it right in Afghanistan. We have blown the previous two, in the 1990s and after 2001."
Riedel and others say if the Afghan government is considered illegitimate, there will be repercussions for NATO and on neighboring Pakistan.
"That will reinforce their deeply held belief that we [the U.S.] are going to cut and run in Afghanistan sometime in two or three years and all they need to do is to wait us out and then their Taliban friends will take over at least half of the country," Riedel said.
But for a long-term success in Afghanistan, the U.S. must focus on creating legitimate government institutions in that country, says Kimberly Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War. She says the coalition forces can help with that.
"The issue is that, as we saw in Iraq, that sometimes the coalition forces need to fill in when the indigenous government is not ready to perform all of the functions of building the state," she states.
Restoring the Afghan people's faith in their government by defeating the insurgency is another key element, according to analysts. Kagan says one way to do this is to focus on small-scale economic projects to help alleviate poverty. "So we really need to think about how to use military resources in order to create the immediate conditions for defeating the insurgency," she adds.
Bruce Riedel agrees. He says it is crucial because the Obama administration inherited an under-resourced war, and now faces the difficult task of convincing the American people that its counter-insurgency strategy is working.
"This situation has deteriorated so far that there are really only two questions now," he says. "Can it be stabilized with any amount of resources or is it just too little too late?"
Experts say the outcome of the elections will provide the answer to those questions. If the two leading candidates get less than 50 percent of the votes there are two scenarios:
Either the two men will cut a deal to share power or there will be a second-round election. The experts say a runoff will provide credibility to the faltering democratic process in Afghanistan, and will also demonstrate that the counter-insurgency strategy of the Obama administration is working.