The future of Afghanistan rests on a knife edge this weekend with President Karzais political opponent expected to decide whether to withdraw from, or boycott, a presidential election run-off next Saturday. Dr Abdullah Abdullah is meeting his main allies in Kabul today and tomorrow to discuss his options after failing to strike a power-sharing deal with Mr Karzai in talks this week, according to sources in both camps and Western officials. They said that it seemed increasingly unlikely that Dr Abdullah would stand in the run-off, because his staff were not even campaigning, and that without a power-sharing deal he was more likely to boycott in anger than withdraw gracefully. He wants to make a deal as he doesnt think the second round will be any cleaner than the first, one source close to Dr Abdullah told the media. But if Mr Karzai does not agree, then a boycott is quite possible. Dr Abdullahs decision will govern whether Afghanistans presidential election can finally produce some sort of legitimate result after the debacle of the first round, in which a quarter of all votes were found to be fraudulent. It will also dictate to a large extent whether President Obama decides in the next few days that he has a credible enough partner to send more troops to Afghanistan as part of a new counter-insurgency strategy. The stakes are very high, not just for the two candidates but for the international community as well, said Haroun Mir, head of Afghanistans Centre for Research and Policy Studies. Everyone wants these two men to reach a compromise. President Karzai claimed outright victory in the first round, on August 20, but reluctantly agreed to a run-off after an investigation backed by the United Nations found that a million of his votes were fraudulent. Dr Abdullah then gave Mr Karzai until today to meet several minimum conditions for the run-off to prevent a repeat of the earlier fraud, which occurred mainly in areas too dangerous for observers. They included closing 500 polling centres in those areas, suspending three ministers and sacking Azizullah Ludin, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which is organising the election. Mr Karzai has refused to dismiss or suspend those men and the IEC has announced plans to open even more polling centres than in the first round, in defiance of pressure from the United Nations. Over the past week Western officials have tried to mediate by pressing Dr Abdullah to tone down his demands, some of which they say are not realistic in such a short time. Dr Abdullah has been holding talks with President Karzai on how many ministries, provincial governorships and other key positions each of them would control in a national unity government. One presidential candidate who stood in the first round said that Dr Abdullah met Mr Karzai on Wednesday and pushed for a 30 per cent quota in a power-sharing deal. Theres no campaigning from his side all efforts are for an agreement, the candidate said. President Karzai has so far resisted, apparently believing that he is in the far stronger position as he is widely expected to win the run-off if it goes ahead. Karzai was belligerent as hell, said one senior European diplomat briefed on Wednesday's meeting. That makes it unlikely that Dr Abdullah will either stand in the run-off or withdraw gracefully, because both options would leave him with little bargaining power. He is much more likely to boycott, analysts say, to deny Mr Karzai the legitimate victory that he craves, especially in the Tajik-dominated north where most people support Dr Abdullah. A boycott could also cause a legal wrangle because the constitution specifies that no one can become president with less than 50 per cent of the vote. Some say that there should be a run-off with the candidate who came third in the first round. More worryingly, however, a boycott could prompt Dr Abdullahs backers to call their supporters out on to the streets for protests that could easily turn violent in a country awash with weapons. (From The Times)