Despite Fraud Fears, Washington Threatens to Yank Aid If Afghans Don't Settle Presidential Election

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."