Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appealed for the two men vying to succeed him to end their dispute over election results and save the country from further violence and economic decline.
Afghanistan has been paralysed for months after the first round of the presidential election failed to produce a clear winner and the second round of voting in June triggered allegations of massive fraud.
“I hope we stay united… so that our country is led towards peace and prosperity,” Karzai said in a speech in Kabul to mark Independence Day on Tuesday.
Amid fears of a return to civil war, the United States brokered an emergency deal designed to end the impasse between Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist, and former anti-Taliban fighter Abdullah Abdullah.
But neither candidate appears willing to back down.
The dispute could potentially erupt again, as results emerge from an anti-fraud audit of all eight million votes and pressure builds for the new president to be instated within weeks.
“I hope that Afghanistan’s election has a result soon. The people are waiting impatiently for the result,” the AFP news agency quoted Karzai as saying.
“I hope both of our brothers… reach an agreement so that Afghanistan soon has an inclusive government in which nobody is left out.”
The political stalemate has revived divisions that lay behind the 1990s civil war in Afghanistan.
Many of Ghani’s supporters are Pashtuns in the south and east, while Abdullah’s loyalists are Tajiks and other northern groups.
The uncertainty has hit an already fragile economy, which is dependent on aid funding that is declining as the 13-year international effort to develop Afghanistan winds down.
The US has been pushing for the next president to be inaugurated by the end of the month, ahead of a NATO summit that should sign off on follow-up support after NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year.
The audit has checked nearly 50 percent of the ballot boxes and the next stage of invalidating fraudulent votes will likely raise tensions between the candidates – who are meant to be in talks over a post-election unity government.
Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban regime fell in 2001, has stayed publicly neutral in the election, although Abdullah has accused him of being involved in the alleged fraud.
Preliminary results from the runoff vote in June showed Ghani well ahead of Abdullah, a sharp turn-around of the first round when Abdullah came top of a field of eight candidates.