Rival Afghan presidential candidates have pledged to resolve their election dispute and form a “national unity government” before NATO leaders gather in Britain early next month to discuss Afghanistan's future.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations officials in Kabul helped brokered the deal after extensive negotiations with presidential hopefuls, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.
Speaking to reporters alongside Kerry in the Afghan capital, both Ghani and Abdullah promised to cooperate in speeding up an internationally-supervised audit of the disputed June 14 runoff vote. Ghani hoped that the process will be completed by the end of this month and the next president will be inaugurated to end political uncertainty in the country.
“We affirmed today again both our support for this process of audit and our commitment to abide by its results. But to underline our sense of unity of purpose we are affirming that we will form a government of national unity to implement what we promised during the campaign," said Ghani.
For his part, Abdullah suggested the formation of the national unity government, and not the audit process, has become a priority for both the sides.
“We have agreed on this mutual program. We are committed to work together to develop it further and our teams will start working on the details of it for a few days, leaving the outcome of the elections aside or what has happened in the past but rather looking towards the future for the interest of the national unity of government with every eventuality which might come up as a result of the audit process," said Abdullah.
Former finance minister Ghani was ahead when the preliminary results were announced early last month. But Abdullah, a former foreign minister, rejected the outcome, claiming that two million fake votes were cast for his rival. His supporters had threatened to establish a parallel government, revising fears of political chaos along ethnic lines.
The political turmoil prompted Secretary Kerry to visit Kabul last month to persuade the two candidates to agree to a full audit of the disputed vote and to form an inclusive government.
But the audit has since been marred by controversies and walkouts by the two sides over how to disqualify suspicious votes.
Ghani and Abdullah also disagreed on the nature of a national unity government verbally agreed to in July.
Speaking at Friday’s press briefing, Kerry acknowledged an initial lack of clarity on both issues, but says they have now been worked through.
“That is why both the candidates are here today to say they are not asking for further [auditing] criteria or changes. And they have agreed on a process, they will stay with the process and they will abide by the process. That is an accomplishment," said Kerry.
The political deal brokered by the U.S. secretary of state seeks the creation of a new chief executive position in the governing system to accommodate the losing candidate in the future administration.
Kerry dismissed suggestions the move will undermine the constitution of Afghanistan. He said he hoped political transition will be complete before NATO leaders gather for the September summit in Wales to discuss post-2014 plans for Afghanistan.
Afghan presidential candidates (from left) Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (in white) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (third from left) arrive at a joint press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 8, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani (center) and Abdullah Abdullah (left) during a news conference in Kabul, Aug. 8, 2014.
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (left) speaks while other candidate Abdullah Abdullah (center) talks to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a joint press conference in Kabul, Aug. 8, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center) talks as Afghanistan's presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah (left) and Jan Kubis, the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative, listen during a meeting at U.S. embassy, in Kabul, Aug. 8, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center) holds up a string of Islamic beads, as Afghanistan's presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (left) and Jan Kubis, the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative look on, during a meeting at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Aug. 8, 2014.