Kabul: US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with rival Afghan presidential candidates for a second day as the United States struggles to find a path out of the crisis enveloping the nation`s elections.
The prolonged uncertainty about the outcome of a runoff has jeopardized a central part of President Barack Obama`s strategy to leave behind a stable state after the withdrawal of most US troops at year`s end.
Kerry is meeting today with the candidates, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, after discussions yesterday proved inconclusive.
The top American diplomat is looking for a plan acceptable to all that would allow the United Nations to audit extensive fraud allegations in last month`s vote.
The bitter dispute over who is President Hamid Karzai`s rightful successor has alarmed Afghanistan`s US and Western benefactors, creating a political crisis that risks undermining more than a decade of efforts to build an Afghan government capable of fighting the Taliban on its own and snuffing out terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
Extended instability would have more immediate consequences for Afghanistan. If no process is established and both Ghani and Abdullah attempt to seize power, the government and security forces could split along ethnic and regional lines.
The winner amid the chaos could be the Taliban, whose battle against the government persists despite the United States spending hundreds of billions of dollars and losing more than 2,000 lives since invading the country after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Preliminary runoff results, released earlier this week against US wishes, suggested a massive turnaround in favor of the onetime World Bank economist Ghani, who lagged significantly behind Abdullah in first-round voting.
Abdullah, a top leader of the Northern Alliance that battled the Taliban before the US-led invasion in 2001, claims massive ballot-stuffing. He was runner-up to Karzai in a fraud-riddled 2009 presidential vote before he pulled out of that runoff, and many of his supporters see him being cheated for a second time.
Kerry`s hastily arranged visit appears to have succeeded in its most pressing objective: getting both candidates to pull back from declarations of victory and quieting calls among Abdullah`s supporters, powerful warlords included, for setting up a "parallel government."
In a series of meetings yesterday that went into the night, Kerry stressed that Washington isn`t taking sides.