Afghan commission and politicians welcome breakthrough deal in electoral deadlock

The Associated Press

Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, chairman of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC), center, speaks during a joint press conference as Jan Kubis, United Nation representative for Afghanistan, left, and Abdul Satar Saadat, chief of Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission, listen at the IEC office in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Welcoming an agreement between the two top candidates brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the United Nations, Afghanistan's election commission hopes to finish an audit of 23,000 polling stations within three weeks. (AP photo/Rahmat Gul)

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Amid relief that a dangerous rift in the country's troubled democracy has been averted, Afghan officials praised a deal between presidential contenders brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and said Sunday they hope to finish a full ballot audit within weeks.

Kerry unveiled the breakthrough deal Saturday night, with both hopefuls promising to abide by the results of the audit, followed by plans for the winner to form a government of national unity with participation of the losing side. The agreement followed a marathon series of shuttle meetings between the two candidates who took part in the June 14 runoff — former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

The two stood by Kerry's side when the bargain was revealed on national television and then spoke endorsing the agreement.

With many Afghans saying the deal exceeded their expectations from Kerry's two-day mediation, the chairman of the country's Independent Election Commission told reporters at a news conference that the commission is ready to start auditing all 8 million votes cast from 23,000 polling station within a few days and hopes to complete the process in three weeks.

Money dealers said that the value of the Afghan currency improved after the deal, and ordinary Afghan citizens in the capital and political leaders were univocal in their praise — although some cautioned that it must still be implemented and that the way ahead is still difficult.

The chairman, Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, said additional auditors would need to be trained, but the audit can begin this week in the presence of representatives from both candidates as well as national and international observers. Audits can take place around the clock, with an aim of getting through about 1,000 polling stations results per day, he said.

The deal offered a path out of the impending political crisis in Afghanistan. Until Kerry stepped in, aided by U.N. representative Jan Kubis, both candidates had been claiming victory and even were talking of setting up competing governments.

There had been fears that a falling out between supporters of Ahmadzai and Abdullah could lead to civil war in a country already contending with a serious threat from Taliban fighters, who are in the midst of a summer offensive.

Insurgent attacks across the country killed 11 Afghan security force members, authorities said Sunday, while a suicide car bomb wounded three NATO troops.

The deadliest attacks happened overnight in Afghanistan's eastern Laghman province, when insurgents raided Afghan police and army checkpoints in Aliangar district, said Sarhadi Zwak spokesman for the provincial governor. Zwak said the dead from the assault included six police officers and one soldier, while security forces killed 15 insurgents.

In the western province of Herat, insurgents attacked a police checkpoint early Sunday morning, killing one police officer, said Raouf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. He said officers killed four insurgents in the assault in Shindand district.

An attack late Friday on another checkpoint in the district killed three police officers, he said.

Meanwhile in eastern Nangarhar province, authorities say a suicide car bomber wounded three NATO troops in an attack late Saturday in the province's Behsud district. NATO said the attacker was killed and there were no other fatalities.

Newspapers in the capital Sunday all highlighted the Kerry effort, with commentators saying it amounted to a renewal of the international commitment to backing Afghanistan's young democracy.