ISLAMABAD - A day after election authorities in Afghanistan declared that former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was far ahead in the preliminary results for the presidential runoff, his rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah rejected the outcome and declared himself the “rightful” winner.
Ahead of Abdullah’s rejection, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement warning that any attempt to seize power would result in an immediate cutoff of U.S. economic and security assistance.
President Barack Obama has called the two candidates in Afghanistan's disputed presidential runoff election, to ask them to let the process for investigating fraud claims go forward.
In those phone calls, Obama warned Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani that violence or taking "extra-constitutional measures" would result in the end of U.S. assistance to the war-torn country.
In an effort to resolve allegations of fraud in the election Abdullah claims to have won, John Kerry is to visit Kabul on Friday.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) released initial results for the disputed presidential election on Monday, declaring that Ghani was leading the race with just over 56 percent of the vote while Abdullah received approximately 44 percent.
However, no winner could be declared Monday because millions of ballots are being audited for fraud.
Monday's announcement was a sharp turnaround from the first round of voting on April 5 when Abdullah garnered the most votes with 46 percent to Ahmadzai's 31.6 percent but failed to get the majority needed to avoid a runoff vote.
Even though the commission cautioned the outcome may change after authorities investigate allegations of vote rigging and announce final results later this month, Abdullah told a gathering of thousands of his supporters in Kabul Tuesday that he is the clear winner of both the rounds of the presidential election.
Abdullah told the cheering crowd he rejects the “fraud results,” condemns it and does not accept them. He resisted calls from within the audience to declare a parallel government instantly.
The presidential candidate said he needed a “few days” to make a decision and urged supporters to remain calm until then. But the response from the crowd was a big “no.”
Abdullah promised them that no vote will be wasted, adding however, he wants “neither a civil war nor partition of Afghanistan.”
He reiterated that the large scale ballot stuffing in the runoff vote was orchestrated by what he alleged was the “triangle of presidential palace, the election commission and the rival Ghani team.”
Abdullah said that both U.S. President Barack Obama and Kerry telephoned him Tuesday morning to discuss the election.
He said Obama told him that Kerry would visit Kabul on Friday as part of efforts to seek a legal solution to the election dispute.
Abdullah said the main point of both conversations with Obama and Kerry was that they will support the people of Afghanistan in defending justice, fighting against fraud and revealing fraud.
Earlier, Kerry said the United States expects Afghan electoral institutions to conduct a full and thorough review of all reasonable allegations of vote irregularities.
Later Tuesday, Ghani denied allegations the vote was rigged, saying, “Our votes are clean, we are not afraid of [a] recount and audit, however widespread that may be."
Ghani said he will abide by the findings of the national Electoral Complaints Commission, which is tasked to probe fraudulent vote allegations.
Ghani also sought to appear conciliatory, talking at length about Afghan unity and his respect for Abdullah.
"His excellency, Dr. Abdullah, is a national figure, a respected figure, so he wouldn’t lead to a parallel government," he told reporters. "We have backed all Abdullah’s demands to recount and audit suspicious votes for the sake of transparency. ... They have asked for the inspection of votes, so they should rejoin the process."
Also Tuesday, NATO's chief warned that, despite a disputed election, Afghanistan must sign a security pact on a post-combat international training mission by September, or there will be "severe" problems for the Western alliance, the French news agency AFP reported.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after meeting Obama that allegations of poll fraud were a "grave concern" and he hoped an audit could produce a credible outcome so the new Afghan president could sign security agreements before the NATO summit in Wales in early September.
Meanwhile, a U.N. mission in Afghanistan statement said it would be premature for either of the candidates to claim victory.
It called for the Afghan presidential candidates to exercise restraint and take all steps necessary to prevent civil disorder and instability.
Afghan-born Nazif Shahrani, who chairs the Near Eastern Languages and Culture Department at Indiana University, said the bickering between the two campaigns may actually keep Karzai in power.
"If these two groups do not agree and do not resolve their disagreements over the outcome of the election, then a serious crisis, perhaps even violence, may erupt in the country, in which case Karzai could conceivably declare a state of emergency and continue his own presidency," Shahrani said.
Shahrani said he believes only an international audit working with both candidates can ensure an outcome acceptable to all.
Otherwise, the scholar said the threat of creating a parallel government by the Abdullah campaign could lead to a secessionist movement - a tragedy for a country that has experienced 36 years of war already.
The political turmoil came as violence escalated around the country.
A suicide bomber struck Afghan and foreign forces near a clinic in the eastern province of Parwan, killing at least 16 people, including four Czech soldiers.
The Czech Ministry of Defense confirmed the deaths and said another soldier was badly wounded by Tuesday's blast.
At least 10 civilians and two police officers also were killed in the attack near the provincial capital of Charakar, local government spokesman Wahid Sediqqi said, according to the Associated Press.
Czech chief of staff Petr Pavel told reporters in Prague that the bomber was in a crowd of Afghans talking to soldiers who were investigating rocket attacks against Bagram airbase, a major U.S. military facility nearby.
About 250 Czech soldiers serve among the 50,000 U.S.-led NATO troops still deployed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to the media.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.