WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the completion of a power-sharing deal and successful political transition in Afghanistan could be a turning point for the war-torn South Asian country.
The top U.S. diplomat played a major part in helping negotiate the deal under which the two candidates in Afghanistan's disputed presidential election agreed to form a national unity government.
Late last month, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, replacing outgoing President Hamid Karzai. Abdullah Abdullah became chief executive, in a new role similar to prime minister.
In an interview with VOA's Afghan service, Kerry praised the statesmanship of both leaders, whom he said "came together with a deep realization that they needed to be patriots, that they needed to lift Afghanistan."
"It was the winning of a battle, but there is still the winning of the war writ large - not just the counterterrorism component of it, but the economic, the rights, the development of society, the full development of the democracy, this is a long effort, but if this is the opening of a wider door to that possibility, for the people of Afghanistan and they grab it, then history will hopefully be able to judge that this was a turning point," he said.
Kerry said he is confident that Ghani and Abdullah can work out any disagreements by focusing on "not on patronage and smaller political issues but staying focused on the big issues that confront Afghanistan."
"We are of course are prepared to be cooperative and [to] work and support [the Afghan government]. You know, we care enormously, we have a great, great respect for the very tortured, difficult journey that Afghans have traveled these years," he said.
Kerry also praised ex-President Karzai as "a very intelligent, very skilled advocate on behalf of his country." While he acknowledged that Karzai often saw things differently than the U.S., Kerry said Karzai "transitioned peacefully through an election to another government that is historic and he has laid the foundation for President Ghani and the new government to define the next chapter of the Afghan history."
Shortly after he took power, Ghani signed a long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. that will allow about 10,000 soldiers to stay on when the international combat mission ends December 31.
Karzai was a longtime opponent of the pact, citing in part the civilian death toll during the tenure of international troops in the country since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.