US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Afghanistan this morning to meet with rival presidential candidates and attempt to solve a political crisis that threatens the country's future.
Kerry will look to broker a deal between Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah — who faced each other in presidential runoff election on June 14 — to choose a successor for incumbent Hamid Karzai. The voting was marred by allegations of widespread fraud and the two men are now locked in a bitter dispute over its results.
Preliminary results from the runoff showed Ghani significantly ahead, with 56.4 percent of the vote, despite a significant lead for Abdullah after the first round of voting. Abdullah refused to accept the results and claimed that massive vote rigging had taken place. His backers went on to raise the possibility of forming a "parallel government" which could split the country, especially given that it is already divided along ethnic lines.
The United Nations is now planning to conduct an extensive audit of the allegations, and Kerry will look to persuade both candidates not to declare victory or attempt to set up a government until this is completed. Both Kerry and President Obama have previously warned that any non-constitutional attempt to do so would result in the suspension of US economic and military aid. US officials cited by AP suggest the UN audit could be completed within two weeks.
Kerry told reporters this morning that the "legitimacy" of the elections hangs in the balance along with Afghanistan's future. "Our hopes are that there is a road that can be found that will provide that capacity for the questions to be answered, for people’s doubts to be satisfied, and hopefully for a future to be defined,” he said. “But I can't tell you that that's going to be an automatic at this point."
'Our commitment is to ensure that the election process enjoys the integrity and the legitimacy that the people of Afghanistan and the world will believe in.'
Jan Kubis, UN special representative to Afghanistan, added that the UN would strive to help Afghanistan "finalize and complete the political transition... in a way that will strengthen the stability and unity of the country," AFP reported.
Ghani, a former World Bank official, said before meeting with Kerry today that he was in favor of a full audit of votes. He told reporters: "Our commitment is to ensure that the election process enjoys the integrity and the legitimacy that the people of Afghanistan and the world will believe in.” The country's chief electoral officer Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail had previously stepped down in response to the crisis, saying that he had no involvement with fraud, but would resign "for the national interest."
Failure to form a government could pose a genuine threat to Afghanistan's future. US troops are scheduled to pull out of the country at the end of 2014 after more than a decade of battling the Taliban. A proposed bilateral security pact, however, would see 10,000 troops remain in the country. Karzai has refused to sign it, although Ghani and Abdullah have both pledged to.
A complete US withdrawal would likely cause a rapid deterioration in the Afghan security situation and the Taliban would be set to take advantage of the ensuing chaos. Attacks are still ongoing, and authorities said today that at least 13 had been killed in separate incidents targeting police officers and a convoy of de-miners, AP reported.
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