Afghan rivals agree to deal

KABUL: Afghanistan’s two presidential rivals have agreed to a historic deal to audit all eight million votes cast in the disputed election after two days of intense shuttle diplomacy by top US diplomat John Kerry.

An audible gasp rippled through a packed press conference held on Saturday at the UN headquarters in Kabul as Kerry made the surprise announcement after hours of waiting, saying that vote-checking would begin within the next 24 hours.

Both candidates have vowed to stand by the results of the audit, with the winner to be declared the country’s next president, who will immediately begin work to form a national unity government.

The details of that are yet to be worked out.

The first ballots to be audited will be those gathered already in Kabul, while ballot boxes from all the country’s provinces will be brought under high security to the Afghan capital by Nato and Afghan security forces and kept under tight guard.

Ghani, Abdullah and Kerry joined hands at the end of the news conference and raised them in triumph after securing the breakthrough, which follows a bitter standoff that raised fears of fresh violence along ethnic lines.

The deadlock over the run-off vote to choose a successor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai plunged Afghanistan into political crisis and dented US hopes of a smooth transfer of power as Washington seeks to withdraw all its troops by late 2016.

Preliminary results of the second-round vote released on Monday put Ghani in the lead, but Abdullah – who has already once lost a presidential bid in controversial circumstances – declared himself the true winner, saying massive fraud robbed him of victory.

“Both candidates have committed to participate in and abide by the results of the largest, most comprehensive possible audit. Every single ballot that was cast will be audited, 100%,” Kerry told reporters, which had been delayed by six hours amid last-minute shuttle diplomacy.

“This is the strongest possible signal by both candidates of the desire to restore legitimacy to the process and to Afghan democracy.” — AFP

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