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July 09, 2014

Afghan Political Crisis Raises Fears of Violence

by Meredith Buel

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Afghanistan on Friday, where a political crisis is raising fears of instability and violence.

Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani are dancing in the streets of Kabul as preliminary runoff election results show him leading by a million votes.

His supporters are elated.

"I am so happy today," said Ghani supporter Khan Tahsil. "We all came out from our homes with joy and happiness to celebrate this victory. God is great."

But rival Abdullah Abdullah also is claiming victory, saying fraud at the ballot box was massive.

"We are the winner of this round of elections without any doubt. We will not allow the fraudulent government to rule this country for even one day without any doubt," said Abdullah.

Voting charges

Ghani, though, is defending his votes.

“Our votes are clean and will pass any auditing. We are confident that after the inspection is done, we will go toward a victory,” he said.

Abdullah’s supporters are so upset they destroyed a huge photograph of President Hamid Karzai, whom they accuse of fixing the election in Ghani’s favor.

It will now be up to the Electoral Complaints Commission to investigate.

“I don’t think there is any question that there was nefarious activity that took place on election day and the question in Afghanistan has always been can the commissions do what is necessary to correct for that fraud that takes place,” said Afghan expert Jed Ober.

The election crisis has sparked fears that peaceful protests could turn violent, which is a volatile mixture in a country where Taliban attacks appear to be growing -- as U.S. and NATO combat troops prepare to pull out by the end of the year.

U.S. aid

U.S. officials warn that violations of the Afghan constitution could result in the end of U.S. assistance.

They are calling for charges of vote fraud to be examined and for the next president to form a national unity government .

Outgoing U.S. envoy James Dobbins said, “If either or both of these efforts fail, Afghanistan would be badly divided. And this would have a very deleterious effect on the prospects for peace and prosperity in that country.”  

Analysts say the worst-case scenario is that Afghanistan would split along ethnic lines.

With Afghan troops fighting a major Taliban offensive in southern Helmand province, the last thing the country needs is to start slipping back into civil war.