US Secretary of State John Kerry struggled to end Afghanistan’s election emergency on Saturday during his second day of meetings with the country’s President Hamid Karzai and the two presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. The crisis arose after preliminary results of a June 14 runoff election put Ghani ahead of Abdullah by one million votes.
Abdullah rejected that outcome, alleging that massive fraud and vote-rigging had transformed the election into a “coup” against the people of Afghanistan. Similiarly, Ghani also recognized that the election was flawed, but nevertheless proclaimed himself to be the true victor.
Kerry rushed to the region on Friday in an attempt to broker an agreement between the feuding political leaders. Washington fears that the instability has put the state in jeopardy, just as US troops are withdrawing from the country. The secretary of state met with his aides throughout the night, after a day of talks with Abdullah, Ghani, Karzai, and US special envoy to Afghanistan Jan Kubis.
The secretary of state met the two candidates again on Saturday and will meet with Karzai as well. Talks have thus far focused on the technical aspects of the voting process, and in what situations an audit of the election would be amenable to both camps. John Kerry is scheduled to hold a press conference in Afghanistan later in the day, before heading to Vienna to continue the struggle between world powers and Iran regarding the country’s nuclear program.
According to a U.S. official, the two sides have already rejected the notion of a unity government. Washington has warned both sides regarding the repercussions of attempting to seize power by declaring victory. Doing so would severely fracture the country along ethnic and regional lines, and raise the likelihood that both the police and the military end up split into smaller factions. Both Ghani and Karzai are members of the Pashtun ethnic group. Abdullah, on the other hand, is connected to the Tajik group even though he has familial roots in both communities.
Despite his status as a lame duck, Karzai still holds a substantial amount of influence, and his support will be critical in any attempt to reach a resolution. Afghan officials close to Karzai have said that he was working on behalf of Ghani, who is a former finance minister and a longtime advisor to the president.
This is the third case of Afghan election fraud in the last five years. Each instance has further eroded the people’s faith in both the government and American involvement in the country’s political arena. The most recent crisis occurred in 2009, and involved a political battle between Karzai and Abdullah, who eventually conceded. Washington’s efforts to mediate that crisis left both men with a sense of mistrust regarding the US.
American forces have been in the country for 12 years, waging a war against the Taliban. Although Washington is withdrawing its troops, the country is still dependent on foreign aid, with the US being its largest donor. American and European officials have threatened to cut off billions of dollars in aid if the crisis is not resolved peacefully.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve the power struggle in Afghanistan have met with a litany of complications. However, this is far from the only regional crisis in which the US has become involved. Kerry visited Iraq last month after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group conquered a massive amount of territory, while the secretary of state will next head to Austria for meetings between world leaders and Iranian officials regarding the country’s rogue nuclear program.
By Yitzchak Besser