Afghanistan’s contending presidential candidates should form a coalition government to avoid splintering the country amid their election result dispute, a top U.S. diplomat overseeing the region said.
“A winner-take-all system in Afghanistan is not a workable” option, Ambassador James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said yesterday at an event organized by the Asia Society in Washington. “A government of national unity that includes all elements is, we think, a necessity for a successful government.”
Dobbins said President Barack Obama has assured the two Afghan presidential candidates -- Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai -- that Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Kabul this week to help mediate the disputed election for a successor to the departing President Hamid Karzai. Abdullah has said Kerry will be there on July 11.
Abdullah, who trailed Ghani in the initial vote count of runoff balloting, has alleged fraud and declared himself the winner under pressure from supporters. They want him to form a breakaway government, a move he has resisted so far.
Obama and Kerry have warned the Afghan presidential contenders that any attempt to form a government outside the constitutional process would result in the U.S. cutting off economic and military aid necessary to sustain the war-torn country. Both of the candidates have pledged to sign a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. that would allow American troops to remain in the country after this year.
The U.S. role in mediating the disputed election is limited to ensuring that both candidates follow the rules and not to decide who wins, Dobbins, who has announced he is stepping down from his post, said in a brief interview.
Ghani, a former finance minister, received 56 percent of about 8 million votes, with Abdullah getting 44 percent in the second-round runoff, according to the initial results provided on July 7 by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, had led the first round of the election in April with 45 percent of 7 million votes cast, with Ghani taking 32 percent. Neither garnered the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
The increased number of ballots cast in the second round raised suspicions of fraud, Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah, said by phone. The two sides have agreed to audit votes in 7,000 polling stations, or about a third of the total, Sancharaki said.
Abdullah has sought to void about 2.5 million votes in southern and eastern regions, saying the number of ballots exceeded the population in certain areas. A senior election official he had accused of fraud resigned last month.
Allegations of fraud “are real,” said Omar Samad, a former Afghan ambassador to France and president of Silk Road Consulting, a Washington-based geopolitical advisory firm.
Fraudulent voting, especially in the second round, was “engineered by a collusion between Karzai’s advisers, Ghani’s people” and employees of election-monitoring agencies, Samad said at the Asia Society event.
Ghani has urged calm. He said he welcomed an investigation into poll fraud and said he’s open to political negotiations.
“We want a united, prosperous and stable Afghanistan,” Ghani said. “We expect Dr. Abdullah won’t move the country into another crisis.”
Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun who served as Afghanistan’s finance minister from 2002 to 2004 and finished fourth in the 2009 election. He holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Columbia University in New York.
Abdullah is half-Pashtun and half-Tajik. He was a close aide to Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, an ethnic Tajik seen by many Afghans as a national hero for fighting against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s.
Afghan civilian casualties rose 24 percent in the first half of 2014 from a year earlier, according to a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kabul.
Seventeen people were killed and 12 wounded in clashes between Afghan forces and militants in Kandahar province, Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for the southern province, said by phone. These include 11 suicide attackers, four civilians and two policemen, he said, adding that no group has claimed responsibility.
With the U.S. planning to end combat in Afghanistan by the end of this year, the war has cost 2,333 American lives so far.