Future of Nato forces in Afghanistan in limbo due to election recount

Presidential vote recount leaves a decision on the presence of forces in the country in limbo

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 12:56am

Who, if anyone, will represent Afghanistan at next month's Nato summit is becoming an increasingly pressing and awkward question for the alliance, as it seeks to withdraw most of its troops and bring a long and deadly engagement closer to completion.

Afghanistan's two presidential candidates remain at loggerheads, unable to agree who won an election the West hoped would signal a smooth transition of power and confirm Kabul's readiness to take over the running of the war-torn nation.

A day before the new leader was due to be sworn in at the presidential palace in the capital, and four months after the first round of voting, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, remains in place.

Diplomats say that he could be invited, or pick who represents the country in Wales on September 4 and 5.

The prospect of Karzai's participation raises technical problems, as the constitution deems his term is already complete.

It also risks upsetting the United States, with whom Karzai has had a fraught relationship, and complicating the signing of two agreements that would allow the US and Nato to keep some soldiers in Afghanistan for training and counter-insurgency operations.

Without the pacts, which both presidential candidates have said they would sign but Karzai rejects, all foreign troops must leave by the end of the year, just as the hardline Islamist Taliban insurgency increases attacks on civilian and military targets.

"They [Nato] don't want [Karzai] to spoil the party," said one diplomat.

Not only are civilian casualties from Taliban attacks the highest since 2001, but aid is down and the economy suffering.

Those circumstances make resolution to the crisis pressing, but there is little sign of compromise between Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister.

With the country carrying out a complete recount of eight million ballots cast during the run-off vote in June, and amid allegations by Abdullah of widespread fraud, the formation of a proposed unity government could drag on for months.

"We really hope that the election is wrapped up by [the Nato summit] ... it will be a huge concern for us and the international community if this drags on," said Tahir Zaheer, a spokesman for Ghani, the winner of the run-off presidential vote according to a preliminary count.Abdullah favours sending both candidates, or envoys, to the summit.

Both Abdullah and Ghani say they will sign the bilateral security agreement and the forces agreement to allow some US and Nato forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond an end-of-year deadline for foreign troops to leave.

"It is crucial that the next Afghan president signs the required security agreements for our post-2014 presence without delay," a Nato official said.