KABUL, Afghanistan – Declaring his nation is not Iraq, one of two contestants in Afghanistan’s deadlocked presidential election told The Associated Press on Monday that both he and his rival are committed to lead their war-ravaged nation inclusively in cooperation with international partners.
Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai said there can be no comparison to Iraq, where politicians from the two main Muslim sects and ethnic Kurds have failed to reach a political accord to keep or replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In the meantime, Sunni militants have routed the Iraqi army and seized control of much of the country, even threatening to attack the capital, just 30 months after U.S. forces pulled out.
I am not Maliki, and Afghanistan is not Iraq, Ahmadzai added sharply.
It was the only time in the interview that he obliquely suggested he would emerge after the ballot audit as president, instead referring respectfully to Abdullah and the need to let the process take its course. Ahmadzai revealed that he and Abdullah would meet at his home today to begin fleshing out the framework for a government, with participation from both camps and all communities in Afghanistan.
He said he later expects to be hosted by Abdullah.
Saturday’s election deal has been hailed by Afghans of all stripes. Before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stepped in, some feared that a failure to agree on the election result would have splintered power and left the Western-backed government even more vulnerable to a Taliban insurgency.
Ahmadzai noted that both he and Abdullah are on record with their willingness to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States in their first days in office.
He said the agreement would allow U.S. forces to remain in the country, while leaving Afghanistan with a tight timeline to get its own security sector in order.
At the same time, he says he is ready to negotiate with any Talib who puts Afghanistan first.
We must negotiate, he said. What conflict do you know that is not ended through negotiation?
But that does not go for the looming violent networks that are not confined to national boundaries and want to disrupt order in any known form – including groups seeking an Islamic state, or caliphate, as Sunni militants have declared in Iraq.