Kerry urges Afghan presidential candidates to put power-sharing agreement to work

Secretary of State John F. Kerry appealed to both candidates in Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election to translate the broad power-sharing agreement they reached with him early this month into a working relationship they can carry into a new government, “whoever wins.”

“The time for politics is over,” Kerry wrote in an op-ed published online Wednesday by Afghanistan’s TOLOnews in English as well as in Dari and Pashto, the two official Afghan languages. “The time for cooperation is at hand,” he wrote. “There is no time to waste.”

Kerry’s intervention came amid a crescendo of what a senior Obama administration official called “misinformation and background noise” about the terms of the still-secret accord they reached in their July 12 emergency talks with him.

The agreement came after Afghanistan’s elections board declared Ashraf Ghani the winner in the June vote to replace longtime President Hamid Karzai, and the declared loser, Abdullah Abdullah, cried fraud. To avoid a national meltdown, Kerry flew to Kabul and negotiated a deal to recount all 8 million ballots and establish a unity government.

The vote count was slow to get started, but is now underway. But a parallel process to flesh out the unity agreement has been stalled while rumors fly among the two candidates’ camps about its terms.

“What likely happened is that each campaign, each leader, promised all kinds of positions, jobs, to their constituents. Whoever wins is not going to be able to dish out as many jobs as they had hoped, because of this unity government concept,” the senior official said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about ongoing sensitive negotiations.

Responding to conflicting reports that the winning president will have little power over a new prime minister, or vice versa, Kerry wrote: “I was there in the room, and I can tell you what is not in that one-page document.”

“It respects Afghan institutions and the role of the president as the head of government. It does not establish a parliamentary system,” he said. “It creates a new position of chief executive who will report to the president until the president convenes a loya jirga to determine whether a permanent change is in the best interests of the country.”

The loya jirga, or mass meeting of Afghan ethnic, tribal and political leaders, is to take place within two years.

“What the agreement does provide is a critical opportunity for both candidates to move beyond political competition to real statesmanship,” Kerry wrote. “Every democracy reaches a decisive moment where the interests of the country must outweigh the interests of politicians. Afghanistan is at that critical point today.”

The U.S. administration would like Ghani and Abdullah to “sign the document they agreed to, and publish that,” the senior official said. “Then they need to put meat on the bones of that agreement” and “talk to their constituents about what this means and what it doesn’t mean.”

Although U.S. diplomats are shuttling between the two headquarters to facilitate the process, officials said it is up to the candidates to reach an accommodation. Both Ghani and Abdullah have trained and worked abroad. “These are two guys who understand the international system, who understand sovereignty and governance,” the senior official said. “They know how it works. They have to get it done.”

On the plus side, the election commission Wednesday agreed to guidelines proposed by the United Nations for dealing with ballots deemed invalid, although the candidates themselves have not yet signed onto that agreement.

Ballot-counting, suspended for the Eid al-Fitr holiday ending Ramadan, is due to resume later this week. International and Afghan military forces have brought 75 percent of about 23,000 ballot boxes to Kabul from around the country and expect to complete that process by Friday.

Of the boxes, about 1,000 have been audited so far. Inauguration of the new president, originally scheduled for August, has been postponed indefinitely.

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