Karzai urges Abdullah, Ghani to put aside differences


Outgoing Afghan president says Afghanistan in dire and urgent need of a new govt

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday his successor must be chosen soon to “salvage the country,” which appeared to grow more volatile as the day progressed.

In a rare public statement since he’s been forced to postpone his departure from office, Karzai addressed hundreds of Afghan leaders gathered in the capital to honour a slain guerrilla commander.

Karzai pleaded with the audience to join him in pressuring Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to put aside their differences so they can form a national unity government.

“Afghanistan is in dire and urgent need of a new government,” Karzai said, as Abdullah and Ghani looked on from the front row of the auditorium. “Our tenure has expired. We want a new government, and Abdullah and Ghani can bring us that new government through their unity.”

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also urged Ghani and Abdullah in a statement Tuesday to quickly reach an agreement that assures Afghanistan’s first peaceful transfer of power through the ballot box.

“Both parties share a real responsibility to guide Afghanistan to a peaceful and more prosperous future,” the statement said. “Given the scale of the challenges, this can only be done jointly.”

The challenge facing the United Nations, as well as the United States and its NATO allies, in encouraging a smooth transition appeared to grow even more complicated this week.

Alleging that a June runoff election between the two men was fraudulent, Abdullah, a former foreign minister, on Monday declared himself the winner and said he would not accept Ghani taking power through “fraudulent means.” The audited election results, however, are expected to deliver the presidency to Ghani, a former finance minister.

After Karzai spoke Tuesday, former Afghan president Sibghatullah Mojadidi, a Ghani supporter, walked onto the stage to speak. But the heavily pro-Abdullah crowd began jeering and taunting him. Abdullah urged his supporters to remain calm, but the ruckus continued and Karzai abruptly left the auditorium. Mojadidi also left the stage.

The scene, which Afghanistan’s Tolo News described as “chaos,” will likely raise questions about how much control Abdullah would have over his followers if election-related disturbances erupt in the coming days.

And on Tuesday, concerns about potential violence rose as some Abdullah supporters put on a show-of-force on the streets of the capital.

Hundreds of men — many carrying assault rifles or knives — arrived in Kabul to honor Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. They paraded around the city in trucks and cars plastered with Massoud and Abdullah posters, at times firing bullets in the air.

Celebratory gunfire is common in Afghanistan, but the sight of heavily armed men patrolling Kabul streets is likely to exacerbate concerns about armed conflict if Abdullah and Ghani fail to agree on a new government.