Feuding presidential candidates to form unity government in Afghanistan
Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah agree to cooperate regardless of election recount results
Afghanistan's feuding presidential candidates yesterday signed a deal to form a national unity government, opening an apparent way forward in a dispute over a fraud-tainted election threatening to revive ethnic conflict.
Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah vowed to work together whoever becomes president after an ongoing audit of all eight million votes declares the winner of the June 14 election.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Kabul to mediate an end to the impasse, welcomed the deal as a major advance in bringing Afghanistan back from the brink of political chaos as US-led Nato troops withdraw.
Abdullah had refused to accept preliminary results that put Ghani ahead, accusing his rival of stealing the election by massive ballot-box stuffing.
"Today [we] have taken another step forward in the interests of strengthening national unity... and also to bring hope for a better future for the people of Afghanistan," Abdullah said, standing beside Ghani and Kerry.
"We are committed to working together on the basis of our common vision for the future of our country."
The signed text admitted Afghanistan was "in one of the most politically sensitive periods of its history" due to the contested outcome of an election that should herald the country's first democratic transfer of power.
"We trust each other," Ghani said. "We will work with each other to fulfil this national duty and obligation for every Afghan.
"We are affirming that we will form a government of national unity... What unites us is far greater than what divided us during the campaign."
The deal also said that both sides agreed that the successor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai should be inaugurated before the end of this month.
The timeline was a key demand of Kerry, who had stressed in talks with both candidates the importance of having a new president before a Nato summit in Britain on September 4-5.
The summit is expected to endorse a US-led Nato "training and advisory" mission in Afghanistan next year, after all foreign combat troops withdraw by December.
But member nations have expressed reluctance to make costly commitments if Afghanistan fails to complete the election - a key goal of the massive international military and aid effort since 2001.