WASHINGTON - As U.S. and Taliban aim for a ‘reduction in violence’ agreement scheduled to be signed by both sides before the end of the month, the main opposition party in Afghanistan threatened on Tuesday to form a parallel government following the announcement of the final election results, which gave the incumbent Ashraf Ghani another five-year term in office.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Ghani secured 50.64% of the votes while his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, secured 39.52%, declaring Ghani as the winner of the country’s fourth presidential election since 2001, when the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban regime for harboring the al-Qaida terror group, who carried out the September 11 attack on the U.S.
Speaking to his supporters in Kabul, Ghani said it was time for the country to unite in peace.
“The moment has come for all to join forces and bring peace to every village, every street and every valley of this country. The time has come to join forces and rescue our country from poverty, discord and war,” Ghani told his supporters. “We want peace and enduring peace. It is a demand of this country. God willing we will bring peace to the entire country.”
Ghani’s main rival, Chief Executive Abdullah, who has shared power with Ghani since the 2014 presidential elections as part of the National Unity Government, rejected Tuesday’s results as “fraudulent” and vowed to announce the forming of his government soon.
“We are going to establish an inclusive government,” he told his supporters in Kabul.
“We do not accept the fraudulent results. We are announcing our victory. We will now form an inclusive government. We call on all our compatriots who believe in democracy & fairness to stand with us. God protect our country,” Abdullah added a in a tweet later.
The Taliban also rejected as "fraudulent" the presidential election and Ghani's "illegal" victory, charging the entire exercise was against the spirit of the ongoing peace process.
In a statement, the insurgent group said any elections under "foreign occupation" could never help settle the conflict in the country.
Impact on the peace process
The news of a potential deal with the Taliban and subsequent intra-Afghan dialogue comes amid an ongoing political struggle between Ghani and Abdullah, which took a new turn with Tuesday’s final results of elections held in September 2019. The polls were postponed several times amid security threats and lack of preparedness by the country’s election commission.
Ghani and Abdullah shared power in the contested presidential elections of 2014 following months of a political crisis that almost took the country to the brink of civil war before the U.S. brokered a deal that helped create the National Unity Government (NUG). Both men vowed not to compromise this time around.
The political crisis stemming from the announcement of the final election results could derail the ongoing U.S. peace talks with the Taliban. U.S. officials say the talks are moving towards a deal in the next couple of days.
WATCH: Peace talks
According to U.S. officials, a successful implementation of the temporary reduction in violence would pave the way for a comprehensive peace deal that could end America’s longest war and bring home about 13,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members and cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.
No firm date has yet been given on when the so-called "reduction in violence" period will begin. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Saturday during the Munich Security Conference that consultations are still under way on setting a start date for a seven-day trial period of reduced violence.
“That is a moving date because we are still doing consultations, if you will, ... so I can't give you a hard date right now,” Esper told reporters in Munich, Germany.
“Where we are right now is on the doorstep of a reduction-of-violence period. If we decide to move forward, if all sides hold up — meet their obligations under that reduction in violence — then we'll start talking about the next part, whether to move forward [with the comprehensive peace agreement],” Esper added.
Why no cease-fire?
The term "reduction in violence" has created some confusion among many Afghans including government officials who question why both sides refrain from calling it a ‘cease-fire.’
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, told reporters in Kabul earlier this month that the Taliban’s commitment to anything short of a full cease-fire would not produce the desired outcome.“
If the Taliban do not agree to a cease-fire, which is the demand of the Afghan people, we cannot put an end to war in Afghanistan, and we would not achieve the desired results,” Sediqqi said.
Sediqqi specifically took issue with the “reduction of violence” term used by the Taliban, charging the Afghan government has not changed its demand of a complete cease-fire, which is “the most important and fundamental demand of the people of Afghanistan."“
Does it mean that not 10 but five people will lose their lives? Or it means that there won’t be 10 attacks but five daily?” Sediqqi added.
WATCH: Afghan talks full cease-fire
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, on Saturday during the Munich Security Conference, expressed some leniency and voiced cautious optimism about a partial truce agreed between the Taliban and the U.S. He said he was on the same page with Washington.
Some former Taliban officials charge the group cannot take the risk of announcing a complete cease-fire, as it would lead to divisions in its ranks. They said reorganizing fighters afterwards, in the event the talks do not achieve the desired objective, would become difficult.
“The desired goals gravitated within the resistance core against Americans would be eradicated by (a) cease-fire, and the existing leverage would be eliminated,” Jalaluddin Shinwari, former deputy minister of justice during Taliban regime, told VOA.
Malawi Jalaluddin Haqqani, the regime’s former attorney general, echoed Shinwari’s concerns and charged that a cease-fire would disperse the Taliban fighters and undermine the political goals of the group.
“The desired goals that are there to stand and fight against American military would be lost," Haqqani said.
Tuesday’s developments cast more uncertainty on the next phases of the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the U.S. including the intra-Afghan dialogue.
The Taliban has so far insisted that it would talk to the Afghan government as one of the groups among other factions in the country not as a government. The Afghan government, however, insists that it would enter the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue with the insurgents as the legitimate government elected by the Afghan people.
VOA’s Ayaz Gul from Islamabad, Carla Babb from Germany, Ardita Dunellari from Washington and Haseeb Maudoodi from Kabul contributed to this story. Some materials used in this story came from The Associated Press.