Kerry flies to Kabul as ‘Afghanistan’s future hangs in the balance’

Mr Kerry rushed to Kabul from Beijing to talk to the two rivals hoping to take the presidency

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has warned that the future viability of Afghanistan “hangs in the balance” amid the bitter dispute over the outcome of last month’s presidential election run-off, and appealed to both contenders to give their backing to an orderly and wide-ranging audit of the votes cast.

In a sign of deepening alarm about the stand-off, Mr Kerry rushed to Kabul from Beijing to talk to the two rivals hoping to take the presidency: Ashraf Ghani, formerly of the World Bank; and Abdullah Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter.

While provisional results of the run-off showed a substantial margin of victory nationwide for Mr Ghani, who draws most of his support from Pashtun tribes in the south and east, Mr Abdullah has claimed widespread voting irregularity. His support comes mostly from the north. Suggestions from Mr Abdullah’s camp that he may attempt to set up a parallel government have raised fears of Afghanistan breaking apart.

With the US planning to withdraw virtually all its troops from the country by the end of the year, the prospect of Afghanistan disintegrating is all the more unappealing because of Iraq, which is in the throes of a potential dismemberment of its own.

“The election legitimacy hangs in the balance; the future potential of the transition hangs in the balance,” Mr Kerry said after meeting UN envoy Jan Kubis.

Washington has already made clear that any attempt by either man to incite violence would lead to a suspension of all US financial assistance. Such a move would be crippling to the Afghan government. The threat appears to be aimed at Mr Abdullah in particular.

“We want a unified, stable and democratic Afghanistan. It is important that whoever is president is recognised by the people as having become president through a legitimate process,” Mr Kerry said after a meeting with Mr Abdullah.

Mr Ghani has said he is ready to accept a UN-led audit. “Our commitment is to ensure that the election process enjoys the integrity and the legitimacy that the people of Afghanistan and the world will believe in,” he said.

Mr Abdullah branded the results of the 14 June run-off, which saw him take only 43.45 per cent against 56.44 per cent for Mr Ghani, a “coup” against the Afghan people. In the first round in April, Mr Abdullah fell just short of an outright majority with 44.9 per cent of the vote.

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