KABUL: US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Afghanistan on Friday on a key mission to try to quell tensions over disputed presidential polls which have triggered fears of violence and ethnic unrest.
Kerry, who landed amid tight security on a pre-dawn, unannounced visit, had earlier said Afghanistan faces a “critical moment” as Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani wrangle over who will lead the country, while international forces prepare to withdraw following more than a decade of war.
Preliminary results from last month’s second round run-off have put Ghani in the lead, but Abdullah, who has already once lost a presidential bid, has declared himself the true winner, saying massive fraud robbed him of victory.
The election stand-off has sparked concern that protests could spiral into ethnic violence and even lead to a return of the fighting between warlords that ravaged Afghanistan during the 1992-1996 civil war.
Without backing either candidate, Kerry was to meet on Friday with outgoing President Hamid Karzai as well as both presidential hopefuls, United Nations officials and possibly members of the independent election commission.
“A perfect election in these conditions is neither possible nor really the objective,” a senior US administration admitted.
The US was “going to push for the very best, most credible, most transparent and most broadly accepted outcome that we can under the circumstances,” he told reporters flying in with Kerry from Beijing.
“There are a number of constraints to getting an outcome that would reflect a very exact vote-count . . . but we can get to a much better outcome than we currently have,” he added.
Ghani’s campaign spokesman Abdul Ali Mohammadi said Kerry was “coming here to solve the election deadlock, and I think it is a positive step.”
Abdullah’s spokeswoman Lailuma Ahmadi also welcomed Kerry’s visit.
“We think it is a positive move and we welcome any move and efforts to separate clean votes from unclean votes or fraudulent votes,” Ahmadi told Agence France-Presse.
Kerry will be pressing both candidates to accept a thorough review of the results, and the two candidates have broadly agreed to four types of audits, the US official said.
Auditors may look at districts in which a perfectly round number of votes was recorded, or where the number of women voters outnumbered men, “which in the Afghan context seems like an unlikely outcome.”
Election officials will also look at districts with very high turnout figures.