Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates pledged to respect the result of a vote audit and try install the winner by the end of August after meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai set up a commission to agree on an inauguration date, Ghani said in a statement today. Both have also agreed on a framework for a national unity government, Abdullah said. Installation of a new president before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s summit in Wales on Sept. 4-5 will allow him to request funds for Afghan security forces.
“In addition to candidates coming together to define the audit road ahead with clarity, they have also come together to define the political road ahead,” Kerry told reporters in a joint briefing with Ghani and Abdullah in Kabul. “I hope that European counterparts can welcome the new Afghan government at the Wales summit.”
Time is running short for the U.S. and Afghanistan to sign a pact that would keep American troops in the war-torn country beyond this year. Failure to reach a deal would elevate concerns that Afghanistan may go the way of Iraq, where militants have made gains against government forces after a U.S. withdrawal.
“The country cannot take uncertainty, uncertainty is a threat,” Ghani said at the briefing today. “Our action today and in the following weeks should create an environment of certainty and trust.”
Last night, Kerry met Ghani and Abdullah separately at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, after a dinner with Jan Kubis, the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan. Kubis helped Kerry broker last month’s accord for a full recount.
Kerry met the candidates again today and visited the presidential palace to speak with President Hamid Karzai, whose term was extended beyond Aug. 2 to serve until the audit is complete.
While Karzai has refused to sign the agreement to keep U.S. and allied troops, both Ghani and Abdullah have said they would do so. The agreement, while protecting U.S. troops from local prosecution in Afghanistan, would secure billions of dollars in aid for Asia’s poorest country. Foreign grants pay for about 50 percent of the Afghan government’s expenditures, according to World Bank estimates.
Under the political agreement forged during Kerry’s last visit, the losing candidate would become chief executive officer, a new position that would report to the president, the State Department official said. The CEO’s role eventually would become executive prime minister after constitutional changes are approved.
About 2,400 of the 23,000 ballot boxes have been counted so far, a State Department official told reporters traveling with Kerry, asking not to be identified citing rules. Ghani was the leader in an initial announced vote tally when Abdullah disputed the results as fraudulent and claimed victory, prompting the U.S. to warn both sides against staging a coup.
President Barack Obama is reviewing security measures after an Afghan soldier this week shot dead the highest ranking U.S. military officer in 13 years of war. Obama plans to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 9,800 by the end of this year, with only a small force at the embassy by the end of 2016, when he will be preparing to leave office.
Thirteen years of the U.S. fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has cost 2,339 American lives, as of Aug. 6, according to date compiled by Bloomberg. Afghan civilian casualties rose 24 percent in the first half of 2014 from the same period a year earlier, according to a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kabul.