The Afghan election commission today bowed to international pressure and ordered a runoff, complying with the United Nations recount that pushed President Hamid Karzai below 50% of the vote. Karzai will face former Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah in the runoff, to be held on November 7. The quick runoff date was necessary to get it in before winter snows made travel in the mountainous regions impossible.

Karzai announced his acceptance of the findings at a press conference alongside U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Kai Eide, the head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. Kerry said the agreement on a second round had transformed the crisis into a “moment of great opportunity.”

Kerry said Karzai “has shown genuine leadership in the decision he has made today.”

The decision to accept the fraud findings and move to a run-off showed that Afghanistan “recommits to the democratic process.” He complimented Karzai for his “openness to finding ways of resolving differences.”

“The international community is 100 percent committed to helping to carry out this election,” Kerry said.

Obviously pressure from the US and NATO allies pushed Karzai into this second round. The election was completely illegitimate in the eyes of the world. However, there’s nothing to suggest that this runoff will be any more above board than the last election. The US has signaled a preference for Karzai, a Pashtun, to run the majority-Pashto country, over Abdullah, of mixed parentage, half Tajik and half Pashtun. Given the fraud of the first round and the general security issues in Afghanistan, a second round also has the potential for more violence, particularly between the Pashtun and Tajik ethnic factions. And no matter how much the international community pitches in, I just don’t see Afghanistan being able to turn around a runoff within two weeks.

We shall see…

UPDATE: President Obama gave this statement:

I welcome President Karzai’s statement today accepting the Independent Electoral Commission’s certification of the August 20 election results, and agreeing to participate in a second round of the election. This is an important step forward in ensuring a credible process for the Afghan people which results in a government that reflects their will.

While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy. The Afghan Constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai’s decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people.

More here.