When people choose ballots over bullets, it is an incredible step toward peace and I hope that this fact is appreciated. —Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
KABUL, Afghanistan — One of two contestants in Afghanistan's deadlocked presidential election told The Associated Press 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 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 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 U.S. 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.
Unofficial and disputed results showed Ahmadzai well in the lead, but supporters of Abdullah charged that was only because of widespread vote fraud. The breakthrough deal provided that every one of the 8 million ballots cast now will be audited under national and international supervision so the result will be accepted on both sides, and, after a new president is determined, the loser and he will join forces to assemble a national government.
Ahmadzai, an erudite financial expert with a slight, gentle appearance and who speaks fluent English, said the key goal of that government will be to form a social compact with all Afghans to bring development and break the vicious cycle that has beset the country with almost continuous war since 1978.
The first job will be to bring stability, and the deal meets that purpose, he said.
"The outcome of this election now can no longer be subject to any tarnish in terms of its legitimacy. So the next president of Afghanistan can begin with clarity of a mandate and the clarity of a commitment," he said.
A unity government will insulate Afghans from "political disputes vastly affecting their lives or putting their lives in danger."
He said the fight over the outcome may have obscured the widespread participation by Afghans in the democratic process, even in some areas where Taliban attacks are frequent.
"When people choose ballots over bullets, it is an incredible step toward peace and I hope that this fact is appreciated."