Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, last week met Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and “made very clear” the US position on elections that are attracting increasing allegations of ballot stuffing.

Mr Karzai has a slimmer lead over his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, than had been predicted but Mr Abdullah on Thursday told Reuters that the Afghan presidential elections had fallen victim to “state-engineered fraud”.

According to the BBC, Mr Holbrooke advocated a second round run-off during a discussion that escalated into “a dramatic bust-up” between the men.

“I’m not going to get into the details of diplomatic conversations, but our
position on the elections was made very clear in these discussions,” a US state department official told the Financial Times after the meeting had taken place between Mr Holbrooke and Mr Karzai.

“Ambassadors Holbrooke and [Karl] Eikenberry and President Karzai, as you would expect, discussed a range of issues at both meetings, including the current election process,” the official said.

“The United States’ only interest is in a credible process. We do not support or oppose any particular candidate, and whether there is a run-off is an issue for the Afghan electoral bodies to determine.”

The Independent Election Commission in Kabul on Thursday said Mr Karzai had widened his lead, with 42 per cent of the vote compared with 33 per cent for Mr Abdullah after 17 per cent of the vote had been counted.

Initial returns gave Mr Karzai 40.6 per cent of the vote, while Mr Abdullah, a former foreign minister, won 38.7, with 10 per cent counted.

Earlier in the week an IEC official said there was a “big chance” of a second round because of Mr Abdullah’s unexpectedly strong showing. He said there was evidence of fraud, particularly in southern provinces where there were more “boxes which have been stuffed”.

Deadly attacks from the Taliban marred the elections and a second round could spark more violence, some observers have warned.

Others have questioned whether Barack Obama, US president, was right to call the election a success before the extent of fraud, turnout and the outcome were known.

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