President Karzai caved in to intense international pressure yesterday and agreed to compete in a second round run-off to decide Afghanistans fraud-ridden presidential elections. Mr Karzai, after days spent threatening to boycott the findings of an inquiry into vote rigging, finally accepted a decision by the countrys two electoral bodies to slash his tally by nearly a million votes, leaving him with 49.67 per cent, just 0.33 per cent below the threshold for an outright win. The run-off is scheduled for November 7. Looking subdued and unimpressed by the praise heaped upon him by three ambassadors, the head of the UN in Afghanistan and the US senator John Kerry, Mr Karzai said: It is going to be an historic period. Fourteen days from today the people of Afghanistan will go to the polling stations again. Of the cancelled votes and fraud allegations, he said only that this was not the right time to discuss investigations this is the time to move forward toward stability and national unity. He called the final results legitimate, legal and according to the Constitution of Afghanistan. Senator Kerry praised the President for his genuine leadership and statesmanship. We believe that with this decision by the Afghan President today, a moment of great uncertainty has been transformed into a moment of great opportunity. His agreement to move the process forward with respect to the run-off will allow the national leadership to govern with legitimacy. He added that Abdullah Abdullah, Mr Karzais main rival, had agreed to a second round. With the maths leaving the Afghan leader just short of the 50 per cent plus one vote needed to win outright, no one apparently thought to reveal the precise figure of Dr Abdullahs share of the vote. His aides said last night that they had not been informed of his official result. The rhetoric and congratulations concealed a week of fierce diplomatic efforts to stop Mr Karzai from refusing to countenance a run-off. Less than 24 hours earlier he told senior Cabinet ministers that he planned to reject the Electoral Complaints Commissions findings, citing foreign meddling. A boycott would have led to political deadlock at best, with high probability of violent protests. Western leaders were quick to laud Mr Karzai yesterday for acquiescing. While this election could have remained unresolved, to the detriment of the country, President Karzais constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistans new democracy, President Obama said in a statement. The Afghan Constitution and laws are strengthened by his decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people. Gordon Brown commended Mr Karzais statesmanlike behaviour, while the EU Ambassador to Afghanistan congratulated the Afghan people. Senator Kerry admitted that the first round had been less than perfect but otherwise there were few references to fraud from the assembled dignitaries and officials, even though many observers fear that a run-off will suffer from the same problems. The August poll, as well as suffering from vote rigging, was plagued by Taleban threats and a pre-election campaign of violence in which several British and other Nato soldiers lost their lives. A second round will have to take place with some areas of the country inaccessible to election officials because of the winter conditions. Parts of the central province of Wardak and the northern province of Badakhshan have already had snow; much more of the country will be hard or impossible to reach by November 7. Dr Abdullah has branded the Independent Election Commission, which announced the final certified results yesterday, corrupt and incompetent. At least 200 commission staff have been replaced as part of the preparations for a run-off. A UN spokesman said that most of them were complicit in the fraud. We know it will be difficult and we know it will require sacrifice but we are committed 100 per cent committed to this effort, Senator Kerry said of the run-off. The Taleban threatened to disrupt the second poll even more than the first. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman, said: We will be prepared and we will use different techniques to interrupt the election. Whether the second round will actually take place is still in some doubt. Diplomats and election officials suspect even hope that Dr Abdullah may pull out of the race, either conceding or joining a unity government, although his camp were insisting that a run-off was their best option. No one wants a second round, a senior Western official said. Itll be expensive, bloody and probably fraudulent. If Abdullah pulls out in the interests of Afghanistan hell be praised as a statesman like Karzai. (The Times)