From left, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) Afghan opposition presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pose for a photo at the presidential palace in Kabul Feb. 29, 2020.
From left, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Afghan opposition presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pose for a photo at the presidential palace in Kabul, Feb. 29, 2020.

ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s president-elect Ashraf Ghani and his election rival, runner-up Abdullah Abdullah, had prepared for parallel swearing-in ceremonies Monday, fueling political tensions and posing a fresh challenge to U.S.-led peace efforts.

Both ceremonies have been delayed, however, for a few hours, apparently to allow for hectic U.S. diplomacy to resolve the crisis.  

The Afghan election commission late last month declared incumbent Ghani the winner of the bitterly contested September 28 presidential election.

But Abdullah, the incumbent chief executive, rejected the outcome as fraudulent, claiming that he and his team had won the vote and threatened to form his own government.

Monday Abdullah tweeted his determination tomove forward:  “No one should have underestimated our commitment to genuine democracy & our resolve to uphold rule of law. Our track record of self-denial & compromise should not have given cause to anyone to take us for granted. Invalidation of all fraudulent votes is the way out!”

On Sunday, the deputy presidential spokesperson, Durrani Waziri, told VOA that arrangements have been put in place for incumbent Ghani to take the oath of office to begin his second term.

She said the Afghan Foreign Ministry has invited representatives of all the diplomatic missions in Kabul to Monday morning’s event at the presidential palace. Waziri noted that Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai are among a large number guests invited to Ghani’s swearing-in.   

A spokesman for Abdullah told VOA they have also made their own arrangements in the office of the chief executive, adjacent to the presidential palace, where Abdullah will be sworn in as the president of Afghanistan around the same time Ghani’s inauguration will take place. “

All necessary preparations have been taken. Foreign guests, and national political as well as jihadi personalities have been formally invited to the inauguration. We have also invited Ashraf Ghani to the event,” said Faridoon Khwazoon. He added all Kabul-based local and international media have also been invited to cover the ceremony.

U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Apr. 28, 2019.

Khwazoon told the Afghan Tolo TV that U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, was holding back and forth meetings with both sides in a bid to resolve the crisis. But there were no immediate signs of a breakthrough.

“We have presented our plan to Mr. Khalilzad to give it to the other side [Ghani’s office]. Their plan has been received by us through Mr. Khalilzad. So far, we have not reached a tangible result,” the station quoted Abdullah’s spokesman as saying.

The political turmoil poses a serious challenge to a landmark deal the United States signed with the Taliban insurgency a week ago to help bring stability to Afghanistan.  

The agreement signed February 29 in Qatar requires the Taliban to open negotiations with an inclusive Afghan delegation of political forces and civil society, and negotiate a permanent cease-fire.

The intra-Afghan talks are to begin Tuesday, but the inauguration crisis, analysts say, is likely to hamper efforts aimed at forming a united Afghan delegation to engage in talks with the Taliban.

Both Ghani and his traditional rival Abdullah also had claimed victories in the 2014 fraud-marred presidential election, leading to months of political chaos in the country.  

Washington’s intervention at the time had settled the dispute under a deal that allowed Ghani to become the president and Abdullah to head a newly formed office of the chief executive of the outgoing so-called national unity government of Afghanistan that was plagued by deep political rivalries and controversies throughout its tenure.

Child Marriage