A new warning of unrest amid Afghan vote dispute

AP News
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Posted: Sep 06, 2014 12:18 PM
A new warning of unrest amid Afghan vote dispute

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — "Radicals" backing Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah could foment postelection violence if he isn't given an equitable share of power, his spokesman warned Saturday ahead of a meeting with his rival aimed at resolving a monthslong election dispute.

The camps of the two candidates — former Foreign Minister Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — said the two were expected to meet late Saturday or Sunday to negotiate a final deal on what powers should be given to a proposed chief executive position, the final sticking point of a national unity government.

Ominously, a spokesman for Abdullah — the man most here believe is behind in the official ballot count — insinuated that the election could still end violently. In what appeared to be either a threat or a negotiating tactic, the spokesman said Abdullah's powerful factional supporters are pressuring their candidate to not cede any power to Ghani Ahmadzai.

"If we agree and the terms of the agreement are providing an equal opportunity for both camps and defuses that tension, it might reduce the prospect of violence," Mujib Rahman Rahimi, an Abdullah campaign spokesman, told The Associated Press.

"But imagine if you have an agreement that insults one side and promotes the other side and each side firmly believes he is a winner — that could be a recipe for radicals to re-emerge and challenge the leadership and say this is not acceptable," he said.

Abdullah won the election's first round in April but did not secure enough votes to avoid a June runoff. A preliminary count showed Ghani Ahmadzai winning the second round, but both sides alleged widespread fraud. Abdullah's camp says it believes some 2.5 million votes out of a total 8 million cast were fake.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker a deal this summer under which all ballots would be recounted, a process that concluded Friday. On a parallel track, the candidates have been trying to agree on a national unity government that would see one of them hold the as-yet undefined position of chief executive.

A spokesman for Ghani Ahmadzai said the former World Bank official is committed to a national unity government, but he also said that giving the losing candidate chief executive power over cabinet ministers violates Afghanistan's constitution.

"We know that our constitution is very clear about that specific issue, but again this is up to both candidates," said Mohammad Taher Zohair.

The international community had hoped for a smooth transition of power as most foreign forces withdraw by the end of the year. The United States wants the next Afghan president to quickly sign a security agreement to allow some 10,000 troops to remain to assist with counterterrorism operations and training Afghan forces.

President Hamid Karzai, in power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, has refused to sign the accord. Both candidates have said they would sign it; one must be sworn in first.

The pressure for Abdullah to not cede authority comes from the wide coalition cobbled together after the April vote: former ethnic Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdullah's second deputy; Gul Agha Sherzai, a former Pashtun warlord; Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province, who has already threatened violence against the central government; and Salahuddin Rabbani, a former president's son.

Five years ago, Abdullah pulled out of an election runoff with Karzai, a "cup of poison" he drank for the good of the country, Rahimi said. This time Abdullah feels he can't abide by what he views as a violation of the one person, one vote principle.

"The international community is saying there will be no viable government without you (Abdullah) and the fraud is so sophisticated we can't trace it. So what is the solution? For you to be a part of the government," Rahimi said. "If you have a winner and a loser that will not work. That will not satisfy the people."

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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.