World and Nation

Runner-up in Afghan vote strikes conciliatory tone

KABUL, Afghanistan — The runner-up in Afghanistan’s bitterly disputed presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, struck a conciliatory note toward President-elect Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in a speech Thursday in which he confirmed that he would join the government as its chief executive officer.

Abdullah’s public address, his first since signing a U.S.-brokered deal Sunday to end months of political deadlock, cleared up the ambiguity about his future role. And it was an open attempt to bring his supporters on board with a unity government amid worries that they might rebel against an administration led by Ahmadzai.

The political deal gave Abdullah the power to nominate the new chief executive officer — a post with powers roughly equivalent to a prime minister — but did not specify who would fill the position. There had been some speculation that Abdullah might name one of his supporters to the post so he could remain free to operate as a political opposition leader. But on Thursday, he was introduced as “the chief executive.”

In his speech, Abdullah offered congratulations to Ahmadzai as Afghanistan’s “future president.”

In answer to a question, Abdullah asserted that he had little choice but to sign a deal with Ahmadzai. “Remember that it’s very easy to resort to violence, but it has bad consequences,” he said.

His supporters, many of whom waved Afghan flags, were more cheered by his promises for the incoming government, which he said would be “keenly at the service of all Afghan people.” But while Abdullah promised to revitalize the ailing economy, which has been further weakened by the political crisis, he made no mention of possible peace talks with the Taliban, exposing a point of contention with Ahmadzai. Outside the hall, Abdullah’s supporters appeared to be torn between indignation that their candidate had lost and relief that a destabilizing political battle had reached a peaceful resolution — at least for now.

“He is not a legitimate president,” said Muhammad Yousaf, a 20-year-old student, referring to Ahmadzai. But, he added, “there was no other solution. Otherwise, the country would have fallen into crisis.”

Abdullah acknowledged that the crisis had battered Afghans’ faith in their nascent democracy.

“I have not forgotten those people who lost their lives, their fingers, when they voted,” he said, in reference to voters who had a finger cut off by the Taliban because it was stained with ink that indicated they had voted. “I hold the pain and sorrow of those families in my heart.”