With Afghanistan headed for a post-election crisis that had some analysts concerned about a civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry helped salvage an agreement during a 44-hour visit to Kabul.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the leader in last month’s vote, and Abdullah Abdullah, who disputed the result, agreed to an audit of all the votes and the formation of a unity government in a pact brokered late on July 12 by Kerry and Jan Kubis, the United Nations envoy in Afghanistan. The candidates hugged and raised their arms hand-in-hand before cameras.
“It’s a shockingly good result under the circumstances,” Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Kabul, said in an e-mail. “There’s still a long way to go before we get a new presidential administration, but the chances are good that Afghanistan will make history with its first peaceful handover of power from one elected president to another, and that’s no small feat.”
The deal paves the way for the winning candidate to sign a pact that would keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year, securing billions of dollars in aid and preserving gains made since 2001. The U.S. spent about $93 billion in military and economic assistance to Afghanistan from the Taliban’s ouster through September 2013, with another $6.1 billion budgeted for this year, the Congressional Research Service said in May.
8 Million Votes
“Whenever there is a need, you are here, and you deliver miracles,” the UN’s Kubis told Kerry on July 12 at a press conference with President Hamid Karzai. “Because what we witnessed today, it was not just a top-notch diplomatic achievement; it was close to a miracle.”
An audit of all 8 million ballots cast would take three weeks, Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul yesterday at a briefing attended by Kubis. Troops from the U.S.- led International Security Assistance Force will bring ballot boxes from the provinces to Kabul, he said.
“I hope the final results will be accepted by everyone,” Nuristani said.
An initial tally on July 7 showed Ghani, a former finance minister, winning 56 percent of the vote, with Abdullah, a former foreign minister, taking 44 percent. Abdullah had sought to void 2.5 million votes, about a third of the total, saying the number of ballots exceeded the population in some areas.
“We hope the intensive and comprehensive audit of all votes would result a government that can be accepted by the Afghan nation and international community as legitimate,” Abdullah said.
Kubis yesterday asked Karzai to postpone the inauguration date for a month from Aug. 2 to allow enough time for the audit and formation of a unity government. Details on how that would work are still under negotiation.
“We believe that the formula of winner-take-all will not serve our national unity,” Ghani said on July 12. “The government of national unity will provide the assurance that we will work together.”
In discussions with Kerry, the two candidates agreed that the winner would ensure that the interests of the losing side are represented in the government, a U.S. official told reporters in Washington today.
The losing side is likely to have a formal role in the future government, the U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the discussions between the candidates are still confidential. The official declined to confirm a report in the New York Times that the loser would be made a prime minister or that there would be moves to a parliamentary system.
Kerry made his detour to Kabul following a conference he attended in Beijing to keep Afghanistan on track for a peaceful and accepted transfer of political power as the U.S. prepares to end its combat role in the country by year-end. He made clear that President Barack Obama was prepared to cut off billions of dollars in U.S. aid if “violent or extra-constitutional means” were used to seize power.
The deal was reached in the final six hours of marathon talks, during which Abdullah and Ghani agreed to sit down together, according to a U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to be identified. Kerry spent the first day shuttling between the candidates who sat in two separate rooms, the official said.
“The United States supports a sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and our commitment to that future is absolutely clear,” Kerry said on July 12. “Our partnership with the Afghan people is strong, and together we have determined that the long, hard road ahead is going to bring us to a better place.”
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 U.S. fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has cost 2,333 American lives so far, as of June 24.
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.
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. Massoud was assassinated in 2001.
“They are working within the constitutional process to readdress grievances, urging restraint among their supporters, and refraining from any actions that could tear the country apart rather than help bring it together, which they are doing tonight,” Kerry said on July 12. “That is what patriotism requires, and I will tell you that both Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah are proud Afghan patriots.”