It was a dangerous moment, and not just for the Afghanis. Without an agreement between second place finisher Abdullah Abdullah and the election’s declared winner, Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan was at risk of an implosion like the one that enabled the Taliban to take power in 1996—creating a safe haven for Osama bin Laden to plot the 9/11 attacks. And Kerry’s visit defied the advice of other Obama officials who warned any diplomatic intervention on the U.S. part held “the risk of complete failure,” in the words of a senior official. …
By mid-July, Abdullah’s supporters had threatened to create a kind of protest government. Rumors swirled of an armed rebellion, with the potential to ignite dormant ethnic and tribal rivalries. “We will accept death but not defeat,” Ghani’s running mate, the notorious ex-warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, had recently vowed. “It was pretty frightening. People were preparing for civil war,” says one official.
“Still,” Steve Coll cautions, “the pressures over the next several weeks will be great”:
The loser of the vote audit is sure to doubt the result’s authenticity. That suspicion will create fresh pressure on the part of Kerry’s plan that is designed to empower the second-place finisher—and that part of the deal seems worryingly vague and incomplete.
Karzai is scheduled to leave office on August 3rd, but it is not likely that the vote audit will be finished by then. On Afghan social media and in the streets, feelings are running high between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns, and along other historical fault lines. The country still looks uncomfortably close to the brink. The question facing what used to be known as the Shura Nizar, or the Northern Alliance, is whether, if Abdullah loses the final count, the alliance can achieve more by compromise than by coup-making. The objective answer is yes, but there will be those of senior rank who will argue otherwise.