Kabul: Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said on Saturday that his country was entering "a new phase", raising hopes that a bitter dispute over fraud-tainted elections might soon be solved.
Abdullah and his bitter rival Ashraf Ghani vowed on Friday to work together whoever becomes president in a unity government deal that was overseen by US Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit to Kabul to mediate an end to the impasse.
The feud threatens to revive ethnic conflict in the war-weary nation as US-led NATO troops withdraw after more than a decade in the country.
"I'm hopeful but I'm not saying that we are at the end of the road. We are at the beginning of a new phase," Abdullah said .
Abdullah had refused to accept preliminary results from the second round of voting that put Ghani ahead, a reversal of the first round where he came out strongly in the lead. Both candidates accused each other of trying to steal the election by massive ballot-box stuffing.
The two feuding opponents agreed to an audit of all 8.1 million votes cast during the second round of voting under a previous deal overseen by Kerry but it soon frayed due to disagreements. Abdullah stressed that the vote audit must be completed in time to have a new president before a NATO summit in Britain on September 4-5 — a key demand of the US.
The summit is scheduled to endorse a US-led NATO "training and advisory" mission in Afghanistan next year after all foreign combat troops withdraw by December.
"The timeline is a concern for everybody including our friends. We are aiming to achieve that goal of the completion of the audit before the NATO summit and the announcement of the new president," he said.
But he added that his supporters would only accept the result if the audit was "legitimate", raising concerns of future disagreements between the two camps.
"If our people, our supporters are convinced about the legitimacy of the process they will accept it the same that I will accept it," he said.