US Secretary of State John Kerry began a difficult mission to mediate an end to the political crisis in Afghanistan on Friday, warning a bitter dispute over presidential polls threatened the country’s future.
“Obviously we are at a very critical moment for Afghanistan,” Kerry said as he met the head of the UN assistance mission Jan Kubis in the heavily fortified US embassy in Kabul.
“The election legitimacy hangs in the balance. The future potential of the transition hangs in the balance, so we have a lot of work to do.”
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Kerry flew in on a hastily arranged mission, landing in the Afghan capital in the dead of night.
Later on Friday he will meet poll rivals Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, who are locked in a bitter row over who won last month’s run-off election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.
The stakes could not be higher, as the next president will have to steer the war-torn country as international troops withdraw, leaving Afghan forces to fight a bloody, stubbornly resilient Taliban insurgency.
“Our hopes are that there is a road that can be found that will provide that capacity for the questions to be answered, for people’s doubts to be satisfied and hopefully for a future to be defined,” Kerry said.
But he warned that was not “an automatic at this point”.
Kubis vowed the UN would do its utmost to help Afghanistan “finalise and complete the political transition… in a way that will strengthen the stability and unity of the country.”
Preliminary results have put Ghani in the lead, but Abdullah, who has already once lost a presidential bid in controversial circumstances, has declared himself the true winner, saying massive fraud robbed him of victory.
The election stand-off has sparked fears that protests could spiral into ethnic violence — and even lead to a return of the fighting between warlords that ravaged Afghanistan during the 1992-1996 civil war.
Kerry was also to meet outgoing president Karzai, who has “A perfect election in these conditions is neither possible nor really the objective,” a senior US administration admitted.
The US was “going to push for the very best, most credible, most transparent and most broadly accepted outcome that we can under the circumstances,” he said.