More than a week after Afghanistan announced the results of a hotly contested election that critics say was marred by corruption, the Trump administration is demanding a review of the outcome in comments likely to complicate the president's efforts to foster a peace accord with the Taliban.
More than five months after Afghans voted, the country's election commission announced that incumbent president Ashraf Ghani was narrowly reelected with a little more than 50 percent of the vote.
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Rival politician Abdullah Abdullah immediately challenged the outcome, describing it as "national treason."
The United States, which had remained quiet since the results were first announced, said on Tuesday that the results should be reviewed.
This statement is likely to complicate efforts by the Trump administration to ink a landmark peace accord with the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced late last week that the United States and Taliban had reached a tentative "reduction in violence" agreement that could pave the way for the United States to end the war and bring its troops home from the war-torn country.
"The United States notes the announcement on February 18, 2020, by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan on the results of the presidential election held September 28, 2019, in favor of President Ashraf Ghani," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. "Concerns have been raised about the election process. We expect these concerns to be handled in accordance with constitutional and legal procedures."
"[Afghanistan's] leaders and their supporters should ensure that political debate is carried out in a calm manner, free from the use or threat of violence," Ortagus said. "They should also desist from destabilizing actions, including purported efforts to establish parallel government structures inconsistent with the constitution and rule of law. Such moves call into question the country's sovereignty and unity that the United States strongly supports."
The United States' decision not to endorse the election outcome is likely to come as a letdown to Afghan watchers who had seen the most recent election as a litmus test for the country's future. A free and fair election would have signified the country is righting itself after nearly two decades of conflict.
The Trump administration hopes electoral politics do not derail efforts to reach a truce with the Taliban.
"It is time to focus not on electoral politics, but on taking steps toward a lasting peace, ending the war with the Taliban, and finding a formula for a political settlement that can serve the interests of all of this country's citizens through intra-Afghan negotiations we expect will begin in March," Ortagus said. "We urge all parties to participate in and support the immediate establishment of an agreed national framework for peace that is fully representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to prepare for and lead these negotiations."