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Reporter's Notebook: Afghan Waiting Game

It is all but official that Hamid Karzai (search) will be the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. The people of this war-torn nation want to get on with their lives and continue down the path of reconstruction behind an elected leader, but that destiny has been delayed another few days.

Last Thursday Karzai surpassed the 50 percent plus one vote he needs to achieve a simple majority and retain his position as the leader of Afghanistan (search) after nearly three decades of war.

But the announcement due by the joint U.N./Afghan election body has hit another speed bump. Most of us who have been here for months were certain that it would happen over the weekend, some of us placing bets on the day. Now it's looking more likely that we will know whom the next four-year resident of the White House will be before Karzai gets to hold his celebrations.

And that's not the worry of the election body according to Vice Chairman Ray Kennedy's response to a question whether the announcement will come before or after Nov. 2, "We have our own election to be concerned about."

It was just after Mr. Kennedy's press conference that another waiting game began. As I was exiting the U.N. compound a call came over internal-U.N. radios, "Three U.N. staff have been abducted in Kabul (search)."

Those U.N. workers were kidnapped in a brazen daytime operation in the middle of one of Kabul's most affluent neighborhoods. A Taliban splinter group has claimed responsibility — sending fear into the international community here that an Iraq-like trend of violence and abductions might be on the way.

And the release of video aired first by Al-Jazeera made it even more eerily similar to Iraq.

Just two days after the kidnapping I was speaking with an American businessman just off the boat. He arrived in Kabul to consult businesses on their Afghan operations, but in light of the kidnappings he might be getting right back on the boat.

Saying if this recent kidnapping turns out to be a trend similar to Iraq, "That changes the game entirely."

Many journalists from around the world descended on Afghanistan to cover the historic election on Oct. 9. I spent a combined seven months in Iraq last year and over the last few weeks ran into old friends and colleges who have also spent time there. There was an identical exchange in all of those conversations, "It's so nice to be in Afghanistan and not Iraq."

Now, the Afghan international community is on edge for just that reason. Are we going to see a shift to an insurgency similar to Iraq, or are these kidnappings a cheap and unorganized copycat? Either way, the lives of three people who came here to do good hang in the balance.

In my opinion the Taliban and all its affiliates are not nearly as organized as groups now wreaking terror in Iraq. In fact, Karzai and the U.S. military have made it clear that rank-and-file Taliban will need to be reintegrated with Afghan society.

So, be it my hopeful thinking rooted in self-preservation or correct analysis, I don't think Afghanistan will turn into an Iraq. The biggest challenge around the corner will be when Karzai begins the difficult job of cutting up the cabinet pie once he is named president.

Undoubtedly this process will step on the toes and disappoint some who have gained their power and position by the gun. It is their reaction that we need to be worried about.

For the meantime, we are waiting. Waiting for the official announcement that President Karzai will continue to call the heavily fortified Kabul Palace home and waiting to see if we will have to start hunkering down in our compounds a la Iraq. I'm more inclined to dust off my suit for the inaugural parties than to start filling sand bags.

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