The deal, brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, offers a path out of what threatened to be a debilitating political crisis for Afghanistan, with both candidates claiming victory and talking of setting up competing governments.
Such a scenario could have dangerously split the fragile country’s government and security forces at a time the U.S. is pulling out most of its troops and the Taliban continues to wage a fierce insurgency.
Instead, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah agreed to abide by a 100 percent, internationally supervised audit of all 8 million ballots in the presidential election. They vowed to form a national unity government once the results are announced, presumably one that includes members of each side.
Kerry, who conducted shuttle diplomacy between the two candidates late into the night Friday and Saturday, warned that much work still remained.
“This will be still a difficult road because there are important obligations required and difficult decisions to be made,” Kerry told reporters after briefing Afghanistan’s current president, Hamid Karzai, shortly after midnight.
The audit, which comes after widespread fraud allegations, is expected to take several weeks, beginning with the ballot boxes in the capital of Kabul.
Boxes from the provinces will be flown to the capital by helicopter by U.S. and international forces and examined on a rolling basis. Representatives from each campaign as well as international observers will oversee the review, and the candidate with the most votes will be declared the winner and become president.
Both candidates agreed to respect the result, and the winner would immediately form a national unity government. The inauguration, which had been scheduled for Aug. 2, would be postponed, with Karzai staying on a little longer as president.
Abdullah said the election created “serious challenges.” But he praised Ahmadzai for working toward the accord on the the audit and the unity government.
Ahmadzai returned the compliments, lauding his competitor’s patriotism and commitment to a dialogue that promotes national unity.
“Stability is the desire of everyone,” Ahmadzai said. “Our aim is simple: We’ve committed to the most thorough audit” in history. Such a process would remove any ambiguity about the result, he added.
Abdullah and Ahmadzai spoke first in English, then in Dari. Ahmadzai also spoke in Pashto. When they were done, continued…