KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s feuding presidential candidates agreed Friday to resolve their election dispute and said they would set an inauguration date before the end of August.
The breakthrough came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened a second day of talks in Afghanistan aimed at preventing the fragile country from collapsing into political chaos after disputed elections. It was a diplomatic victory for Kerry, who has struggled for similar breakthroughs between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“This is really an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem,” Kerry said at a news conference. “Both parties have agreed to stay at it, and both parties have agreed to live by the outcome.”
Kerry paid a courtesy call on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and met later with the two men, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. They’ve been locked in a bitter dispute over who will succeed Karzai.
Kerry’s visit comes as the election results are being audited in a process that he brokered last month but that had halted to mark the end the of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. The audit resumed earlier this week with representatives of both candidates participating but still at odds over charges of widespread election fraud in the June 14 runoff. Preliminary results of the poll showed Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of Abdullah, but both sides alleged fraud.
Abdullah called the agreement “another step forward in the interests of strengthening national unity in the country, strengthening rule of law in the country and bringing hope to the people for the future of Afghanistan.”
Ghani Ahmadzai said he and Abdullah, whom he called a “brother and colleague,” were determined to turn what he termed a “vicious circle” of turmoil in many parts of the Muslim world into a “virtuous circle” for the people of Afghanistan. He also said that “solving the problems of the country cannot happen on the basis of a winner-take-all approach.”
Ghani Ahmadzai said he hoped that an exact date for the inauguration would be “very firm” in the next week to 10 days.
Kerry is on a previously unannounced visit to Kabul to urge the candidates to accept the results of the ongoing election audit and form a national unity government by early September, when NATO leaders will meet in Wales to consider their options in Afghanistan.