The compromise deal over Afghanistan’s bitterly contested presidential election is a big relief and a credit to all involved, especially Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the two candidates, and Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered the agreement in 12 hours of intense negotiations. It pulled the country back from the risk of civil war and offers a chance for a peaceful political transition after 13 years of Hamid Karzai’s leadership.
Even so, there is no guarantee that the compromise, reached Friday and Saturday after Kerry made an urgent trip to Kabul, will endure. This is, after all, Afghanistan, a fragile, war-ravaged country with many ethnic, geographic and political divisions.
Ahmadzai, a former Afghan finance minister and World Bank official, and Abdullah, a former foreign minister, are both plausible candidates. But the deal is unlikely to hold up if they cannot resist the destructive influence of some of their allies and their own worst instincts. Abdullah, for instance, irresponsibly threatened last week to establish a breakaway government.
First, that means upholding their commitment to a recount, by international monitors, of all 8.1 million votes cast in the June 14 balloting, however challenging that task is. Preliminary results last week showed Ahmadzai leading Abdullah with 56.4 percent of the vote. Abdullah cried foul, and even some neutral observers found Ahmadzai’s margin of victory less than credible.
The candidates have also agreed that the results will be binding and the winner will lead a national unity government. The recount is expected to begin in the next few days and take several weeks, and could delay the planned Aug. 2 inauguration of the new president. But it is the only way to give legitimacy to the electoral process.
The compromise anticipates that the loser or his designee would become “chief executive” for the government, with powers to be settled later. This is intended to assure the loser and his supporters that they will have a meaningful role in the political system. The candidates are also said to have agreed to take the threat of violence off the table and to pursue a reform agenda. The deal includes longer-term plans to consider reshaping the Afghanistan government system, which was established in 2001 with substantial U.S. input and includes a president with near-dictatorial powers. But a parliamentary system or other replacement has yet to be agreed on, and altering the existing structure will be very contentious.
The compromise is a rare success for U.S. foreign policy. But it would not have been possible without President Barack Obama’s threat to withhold aid, the billions of dollars that have propped up Afghanistan’s economy and underwritten its security forces, and without which it could well go the way of Iraq. Obama must be prepared, if necessary, to use that leverage again to ensure the deal is carried out.
— The New York Times
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