US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Afghanistan's
presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani (C) and Abdullah
Abdullah hold their arms in the air together after
announcing a deal for the auditing of all Afghan election
votes at the United Nations Compound in Kabul. Photo by
The two rival candidates in Afghanistan's presidential
election agreed to abide by the results of a UN-supervised
recount of the entire poll to settle their dispute over the
outcome, US Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks with
The recount was scheduled to begin within 24 hours, but was
likely to take several weeks, meaning that a presidential
inauguration due on Aug. 2 will be postponed.
The deadlock over the June 14 election run-off between the
leading contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, has
raised concerns about a smooth transition of power in
Afghanistan just as U.S.-led troops are leaving.
"Both candidates have committed to participate in and abide
by the results of the largest and most comprehensive audit.
Every single ballot that was cast will be audited," Kerry
told a joint news conference with both candidates, held just
before midnight after talks dragged for two days.
"This is the strongest possible signal by both candidates of
the desire to restore legitimacy to the process."
The stakes are high for the United States. Washington hopes
to settle the dispute quickly so it can sign a crucial
security pact with Afghanistan allowing a small contingent of
U.S. troops to stay in the country beyond this year.
Unlike incumbent Hamid Karzai, both Abdullah and Ghani have
promised to sign the deal promptly, but the protracted
standoff over the vote has delayed the process.
Ghani and Abdullah have been locked in an acrimonious dispute
since the June 14 run-off, both effectively claiming victory
and Abdullah refusing to accept the outcome.
They have not met each other in person since the vote but
Kerry managed to bring both men together at a U.N. compound
in central Kabul to give an unprecedented joint news
"This audit will be conducted in accordance with the highest
international standards," said Kerry, flanked by both
candidates in a packed news conference. As he announced the
total recount of the votes, many in the audience gasped.
"The auditing will be internationally supervised in a manner
proposed by the UN assistance mission, the candidates
campaigns will each provide joint oversight of the audit."
In a show of unity after months of bitter bickering, Ghani
kissed Abdullah on the cheek after addressing reporters.
"Since we have agreed to a 100 percent audit of ballots I
request from President Karzai to postpone inauguration of new
government," Abdullah said.
Preliminary results from the run-off vote put Ghani, a former
World Bank official, in the lead by almost one million votes.
Abdullah rejected the result, claiming widespread fraud and
calling the outcome a "coup" against the Afghan people.
In comments to reporters on Friday, Kerry said the transition
to a self-reliant state hung in the balance unless the
legitimacy of the election could be restored.
Washington has warned of repercussions if either side
declares victory and tries to grab power.
The United States is in the process of withdrawing its forces
from Afghanistan after 12 years of fighting Taliban
insurgents, but the country remains dependent on foreign aid.
The U.S. is Afghanistan's biggest foreign donor. (Writing by
Maria Golovnina in Kabul, editing by Kevin Liffey and David