The US needs to help the tainted Afghan president – and local and regional leaders – visibly improve the lives of the population.
Nearly a third of the votes cast in Mr. Karzai's favor in presidential elections in August were found fraudulent. After much US arm-twisting, he indirectly acknowledged the fraud by agreeing to a runoff election. Now that his main political opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, has dropped out of the two-person runoff and Karzai is the official winner, the US must help him to deliver greater prosperity and security to Afghans.
Improved lives is the only way the Afghan government can restore credibility with the discouraged and disaffected public. It's also the only way, in the long run, to keep the Taliban and Al Qaeda from influence in Afghanistan.
Here are five ways that Washington can move forward with a tainted Karzai:
1. Strongly encourage him to form a new "unity government" that includes Mr. Abdullah, who on Sunday graciously removed himself from the runoff race. Karzai needs a government with wider appeal and greater credibility if he is to effectively influence the entire country.
Abdullah, who was formerly Karzai's foreign minister, contributes on both of those counts. He ran the race (and quit it) on an anticorruption message. He hails from the Northern Alliance that helped topple the Taliban (Karzai comes from the dominant southern Pashtun ethnic group).
2. Apply quiet behind-the-scenes pressure on Karzai. The tough-love public criticism of Karzai has worked mostly to ostracise the Afghan president. Sen. John Kerry's more subdued, but still firm, weekend of persuasion last month produced the desired effect – Karzai's agreement to a runoff.