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Afghan candidate puts faith in deal

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 5:54 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — One of two contestants in Afghanistan's deadlocked presidential election said on Monday that a U.S.-brokered deal for a full ballot audit pulled the country back from the brink and put government legitimacy back on track.

Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, speaking in his first interview since the agreement was reached on Saturday with his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, said the deal has laid the foundation for a national unity government.

Ahmadzai said he and Abdullah will meet face to face at his home on Tuesday to talk and begin fleshing out the framework for that government with participation from both camps and all communities, and he will later be hosted in turn by Abdullah.

The former finance minister said his fears of a return to Afghanistan's darkest days helped motivate the two politicians' agreement. He said he is determined Afghanistan will not be torn apart as it was during the wars of the 1990s nor as Iraq is being torn apart today by the Sunni insurgency against the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Ahmadzai said comparisons between Afghanistan and Iraq are inappropriate.

“I am not Maliki, and Afghanistan is not Iraq,” he declared. “What happened in the last days should show you our commitment to inclusiveness.”

The deal, which was brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry in two days of shuttling between the candidates here, has been hailed by Afghans of all stripes. Some feared a failure to agree on the election result would splinter power and leave the Western-backed government even more vulnerable to a renewed Taliban insurgency.

Disputed results showed Ahmadzai well in the lead, but supporters of Abdullah charged that was only because of widespread vote fraud.

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