Presidential hopefuls Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai on Saturday reached an agreement on ending the electoral impasse and forming a government of national unity -- thanks to hectic diplomatic efforts by the United States and the United Nations.
A flurry of meetings over the past two days between US Secretary of State John Kerry, the two presidential hopefuls, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative Jan Kubis and President Hamid Karzai yielded progress in breaking the stalemate.
Flanked by both candidates and the UNAMA head, Kerry announced the breakthrough at a late-night media briefing at the UN compound in Kabul. He said the hatchet had been buried and a legitimately elected new president would be inaugurated.
The secretary of state, extending his stay in Kabul, held a second round of meetings with Ahmadzai, Abdullah and other senior officials to resolve the election crisis that tended to scuttle peaceful democratic transition in the war-weary country.
“Over the last two days, we have been engaged in serious efforts to find an amicable way out of this situation,” he said, applauding the spirit and leadership of the presidential runners. “We are here to seek a peaceful transition of power from one president to another.”
He said both candidates had committed to participating in and standing by the results of the largest possible vote audit. “Every single ballot that was cast will be audited, all eight million,” Kerry announced.
The UN mission in Kabul had asked President Karzai to postpone the inauguration of the new president, he said. The transfer of power was originally penciled in for August 2.
Kerry took great pains to explain President Barack Obama’s position that it was not for the US to determine who should rule Afghanistan and that the American administration did not support any specific contestant. According to him major points of the agreement are:
1. Representatives of both candidates will attend the process of auditing all votes cast in the June 14 runoff and abide by the results. Each vote will be counted to restore the legitimacy of the democratic exercise and Afghanistan’s stability;
2. The vote audit will begin in Kabul within 24 hours. Ballot boxes will be transported from provinces to the central capital by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops. Afghan forces will provide security.
3. The audit will be supervised internationally and in line with UNAMA’s proposal. Candidate observers will have access to the investigations;
4. Whosoever wins will form a government of national unity and both sides will respect the IEC/IECC decisions to establish the integrity of the election.
Speaking on the occasion, Abdullah thanked US President Obama and his secretary for their sincere efforts to resolve the election process. He also praised people’s active participation in the polls despite a whole host of challenges.
For his part, Ghani called Abdullah his brother and extolled his spirit in reaching compromise with him and thereby rising above petty personal political interest for the sake of the country’s stability and prosperity. “Let me say categorically, I’ll abide by the IEC/IECC decision…”
Kerry lauded Karzai for his warm welcome and serious efforts at the last moment. He appreciated the role of UN special representative for Afghanistan Jan Kubis and the US embassy staff.
Delaying declarations of victory, silencing calls for a parallel government and Abdullah’s consent to resume cooperation with election authorities are the major highlights of the headway achieved during the past 48 hours of diplomacy.
With Friday’s discussions ending on a sterile note, the secretary went into fresh negotiations with Ahmadzai and Abdullah for the second time in an effort to break the deadlock. He emphatically urged adherence to the rule of law by all stakeholders in the supreme interest of the country.
Former World Bank economist Ghani, despite conceding lead in the first round of the vote on April 4, earned a lead of more than a million ballots in the preliminary runoff results announced by the Independent Election Commission.
Abdullah, alleging industrial-scale fraud in the vote, rejected the outcome, boycotting the two election management bodies. He has been seeking an audit of votes from 11,000 polling sites. The UN, on the other hand, has proposed an audit of 8,000 stations -- or 43 percent of the votes.
Following talks with the candidates, Kerry met President Hamid Karzai and the UNAMA chief. He repeatedly stressed the need for a smooth political transition to consolidate the gains of the past 13 years. He also underlined America’s impartiality in the poll process.
Daud Sultanzoy, a senior member of the Change and Continuity team, confirmed to Pajhwok Afghan News Kerry and Ghani Ahmadzai met for three years in a friendly atmosphere. However, he would not provide details.
The visiting dignitary, who had brokered a deal during the 2009 presidential election, will fly to Vienna to join foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany for talks with Iran.
Welcoming the accord, Kubis appreciated teh candidates' spirit and untiring efforts by President Karzai to make the election process transparent and acceptable to all. He urged the Afghans to work together to build a better future for their country.