John Kerry: Afghanistan Presidential Candidates Agree To ‘Comprehensive Audit’ Of Ballots

Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday announced a “comprehensive audit” in Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election.

Kerry spent much of the past two days meeting with Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and his opponent, former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, to discuss a way forward after controversy greeted last Monday’s announcement that Ghani had won the runoff balloting by a wide margin.

“The audit will be carried out in Kabul, and it will begin within 24 hours,” Kerry said, adding that “every single vote that was cast” will be reviewed, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Abdullah rejected the results of the runoff that were reported Monday, leading to concerns that an already tumultuous period in Afghan politics might become more precarious. The current president, Hamid Karzai, has refused to sign a status of forces agreement with the U.S. government, causing the Obama administration to threaten a full pullout at the end of the year. Both Ghani and Abdullah have said they will sign the agreement, but that would require a relatively quick resolution to the electoral crisis.

The situation had escalated significantly enough to bring in John Kerry for direct talks with the candidates. He tweeted from Afghanistan yesterday, stressing the need for “unity” among the country’s different groups:

Despite the tension, both men have agreed to respect the results of the audit in a bid to bolster the Afghan government’s legitimacy and move toward stability.

“Both candidates have committed to participate in and abide by the results of the largest and most comprehensive audit; every single ballot that was cast will be audited,” Kerry said, according to The Guardian.

The audit will likely take a “number of weeks” once international forces move the ballot boxes to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The presidential inauguration had been scheduled for August 2, but will also be postponed to provide enough time to count all of the ballots.

The New York Times reports that the discussions took place over the course of Friday and Saturday at the U.S. embassy and presidential palace, where Kerry sought Karzai’s approval of the deal. The current president has been at the head of the government since the U.S. invasion in 2001, and the transfer of power is seen as a key part of Afghanistan’s progress to self-sustainment.

But that step was thrown into doubt with Abdullah’s threat last week to form his own government in protest of the results declaring Ghani the victor. Ghani’s campaign, meanwhile, argued that both sides were guilty of fraud, according to the Times.

In Afghanistan on Saturday, though, that acrimony was a memory. In a further sign that both candidates were moving toward reconciliation, Reuters reports that “Ghani kissed Abdullah on the cheek after addressing reporters” with John Kerry.

[Photo: U.S. State Department]