WASHINGTON — Questions over the validity of the final presidential vote in Afghanistan have the Obama administration, eager to withdraw from the country on its timetable, threatening to withdraw aid if a parallel government is formed.
In May, the results of the first round of voting had former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah ahead with 45 percent of the vote, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former chancellor of Kabul University, World Bank official and finance minister, with 31.6 percent. The preliminary results of the June runoff were announced Monday by Afghanistan’s election commission — putting Ghani ahead with 56.44 percent of the vote and Abdullah behind with 43.56 percent.
Turnout in the first round of voting was a little over 7 million. In the runoff, 8,109,403 ballots were cast. Abdullah’s campaign said they were initially told that the number of ballots cast — including fraudulent ones — was about the same as the first round of voting.
Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission, said they accept both fraud and technical problems occurred, including 928 polling sites that didn’t open. Abdullah has accused election officials and the administration of President Hamid Karzai of orchestrating election fraud and his only route of appeal, the Electoral Complaints Commission, is run by a Karzai appointee.
Today, Abdullah said he’d spoken with Secretary of State John Kerry, who planned to fly in on Friday. “The triangle of Ashraf Ghani’s camp and the IEC decided to announce the results of the fraudulent elections,” Abdullah told supporters. “We do not accept it! Karzai, the IEC and Ghani are one camp.”
Citing Karzai’s corruption, Abdullah, a doctor and former adviser in the Northern Alliance that battled the Taliban and al-Qaeda before the coalition invasion, ran for president in 2009 but withdrew due to the tainted election process.
Ghani ran against Karzai in 2009 yet finished fourth; he hired James Carville as a campaign consultant then.
One of the key differences between the two is a lack of willingness on Abdullah’s part to negotiate with the Taliban. Both Karzai and Ghani are amenable to such an effort.
“I assure the people of Afghanistan that we will not accept the results of fraud. From today, we announce that only the government elected through clean votes will come to power,” Abdullah said Tuesday, adding that “without a doubt, we are the winners of Afghanistan.”
Ghani said in his own remarks, according to Tolo News, that he didn’t think Abdullah, “a respected national leader,” would try to form a parallel government.
Washington was ready with its threats in an attempt to ward off that eventuality, though.
“I have noted reports of protests in Afghanistan and of suggestions of a ‘parallel government’ with the gravest concern,” Kerry said in a statement Tuesday morning. “The United States expects Afghan electoral institutions to conduct a full and thorough review of all reasonable allegations of irregularities. At the same time, there is no justifiable recourse to violence or threats of violence, or for resort to extra-constitutional measures or threats of the same.”
“The apolitical role of the security forces must be respected by all parties,” he continued. “We call on all Afghan leaders to maintain calm in order to preserve the gains of the last decade and maintain the trust of the Afghan people. Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community.”
Supporters of Abdullah tore down a poster of Karzai in the Loya Jirga hall Tuesday, with the video circulating on social media.
Fears of unrest prompted President Obama to call Abdullah on Monday night and Ghani on Tuesday afternoon “as part of our ongoing efforts to call for calm and emphasize the need for political dialogue as last month’s election results are tabulated,” the White House said.
“With both, the president stressed that the United States expects a thorough review of all reasonable allegations of fraud to ensure a credible electoral process. He reiterated that all parties should avoid steps that undermine Afghan national unity and should come together to work toward a resolution that represents the will of the Afghan people and produces a government that can bring Afghanistan together,” said the administration readout of the call.
“He also noted that there is no justification for resorting to violent or extra-constitutional means, which would result in the end of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan. The president indicated that Secretary Kerry would continue his close consultations with the two candidates and President Karzai in the days to come.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified on Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, a closed-door hearing to discuss overseas contingency operations with lawmakers.
When asked after the hearing if they were planning changes on Afghanistan policy, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters, “I can’t give any details.”
“Everybody’s watching the events in Afghanistan very closely. I disagree that it’s affecting our relationship. I mean, this is — it’s the first democratic transition of power in Afghanistan’s history. It’s historic on an epic scale. And, yes, there’s complications. We’re certainly monitoring that and watching that and encouraging both candidates to let the process continue,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.
“We’re not picking sides here. The only side that we’re on is the side of the Afghan people. And I think we just need to keep focused on that… There’s a process going on right now that we — some of these returns are obviously in dispute. We need to let that process continue. And the United States — certainly the United States military — is not going to get in the middle of that.”
Kirby said there are “no plans to change our military plans in Afghanistan as a result of the election issues today.”
When asked about the threat of withdrawing assistance, White House press secretary Josh Earnest brought up the pending bilateral security agreement. Both candidates have indicated they would sign the pact to keep forces in the country on the administration’s timetable, a process stalled by Karzai that needs a signature no later than September.
“Of course, for them to sign this agreement, the election needs to be concluded. And because of the concerns that have been raised about fraud, the conclusion of that election is being drawn out a little bit,” Earnest said.
“The forceful message that the president delivered was to ask Dr. Abdullah to remain engaged in the process,” the spokesman added, despite Abdullah’s concerns about who’s in the pocket of whom in the appeals process.
At the State Department, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked why the U.S. would withdraw aid from a parallel government of Abdullah’s but not from the government that ousted Mohamed Morsi in Egypt.
“Every circumstance is different, and you know where we stand on that particular issue,” Psaki said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla,) told reporters on the Hill that Abdullah isn’t the only one concerned about the voting irregularities — members of Congress have also been keeping score of the big voting gaps between the first and second rounds of voting.
“All of the irregularities seem to favor one candidate,” Inhofe said.
“We would have preferred that the [preliminary results] announcement be postponed until there was agreement on further audit measures that need to be taken to address the substantial allegations,” Psaki said. “All of that being said, there are proposals on the table that would help to address that. Our view remains that the audit process can be completed in time to allow the inauguration of the next president to proceed as scheduled on Aug. 2.”