US secretary of State John Kerry was compelled to visit Kabul on August 7 and 8 to mediate between the Afghan presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, after the election audit and power-sharing deal brokered by him on July 13 unravelled. Both candidates had failed to agree on the basic principle for the identification of the fraudulent votes cast in the second round of the polls. They were also unable to make headway on forming a national unity government, a key part of the deal.
Till Kerry’s August visit, it seemed that the audit would go on for months and the unsuccessful candidate, most likely Abdullah, would reject the results. These developments were leading to a major political fracture and the army was in danger of splitting on ethnic lines. An invigorated Taliban, with Pakistan’s support, is waiting to launch a major move, possibly even take over territory in the south and east. Afghanistan was on the edge of a precipice. Has the August 8 agreement kept the country from tipping over?
Both candidates have now agreed to ensure that the audit concludes soon so that the new president can take over by August. This would enable him to attend the Nato summit on September 4 and 5, where the organisation’s post-2015 plans for Afghanistan would be finalised. Both candidates, unlike President Hamid Karzai, have agreed to sign a bilateral security agreement with the US as soon as they assume office. Nato has threatened a full pullout from Afghanistan by 2014 unless the agreement is signed. Obviously neither candidate wants this. An immediate total withdrawal, which would result in vastly reduced financial flows, would be catastrophic.
A quick audit would be an advantage for Ghani as he is about a million votes ahead in the second round, having secured 56 per cent of the vote to Abdullah’s 44. This is a dramatic change from the first round, in which Abdullah had emerged as the leading candidate with around 45 per cent of the vote. Ghani was a distant second with 32 per cent. Other candidates were far behind and some of them pledged their support for Abdullah before the second round. This was required as the Afghan constitution mandates that a successful candidate must have more than 50 per cent of the vote.
It was widely expected that Abdullah would win the election. Ghani claims that his vigorous campaign for the second round led to his Pashtun continued…