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US-brokered accord to salvage Afghan presidential election faces new problems

Afghan election commission workers sorted ballots for an audit of presidential votes in Kabul on Monday.

Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

Afghan election commission workers sorted ballots for an audit of presidential votes in Kabul on Monday.

KABUL — Afghanistan’s election crisis deepened Tuesday as the campaign of second-place candidate Abdullah Abdullah warned that it will abandon a US-brokered deal to end a political stalemate unless major changes are made in how millions of votes are being reexamined.

Abdullah adviser Fazal Ahmad Manawi said the candidate has serious concerns that an ongoing audit of more than 8 million votes cast in a June runoff is not stringent enough to catch fraudulent ballots. He called the audit a ‘‘joke’’ and said new procedures must be implemented by Wednesday or Abdullah could walk away from the recount.

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‘‘If by tomorrow morning our demands . . . are not accepted, our patience has ultimately run out,’’ said Manawi, who has been monitoring the recount. ‘‘We will consider this process a finished one, will not continue in it and not accept it, and the results will have no value to us.’’

The tension comes as the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan and international observers race to complete the audit, which was expected to result in the election of only the second Afghan president since US-backed Afghan forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001. The process has taken on more urgency in recent days because outgoing President Hamid Karzai has stressed he is leaving office in one week and expects his successor to be inaugurated next Tuesday.

Abdullah is a former foreign minister and top aide to legendary Afghan guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by Al Qaeda operatives two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Abdullah finished first in a field of eight candidates in the initial round of voting in April but fell short of a majority, necessitating the runoff with former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who finished second in that round.

Preliminary results from the runoff that were released last month showed Ghani leading by a substantial margin, prompting Abdullah to allege widespread fraud and demand a recount.

This month, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Kabul and brokered an agreement that called for an audit of the ballots and the formation of a unity government once the final results of the recount are announced. On Friday, President Obama called the candidates and urged them to respect the agreement.

A spokesman for Ghani said he remains optimistic the candidates, who met Tuesday, can work out their differences. But some senior Ghani advisers are growing increasingly frustrated by what they view as threats from the Abdullah campaign.

Daoud Sultanzoy, a former presidential candidate who is now a top aide to Ghani, said that there was probably ‘‘fraud on both sides to some extent’’ and that this is ‘‘why we have an audit.’’ Threatening to pull out of the process, he said, is ‘‘selfish and egotistical.’’

‘‘If they don’t show up, so what,’’ Sultanzoy said of the Abdullah campaign. ‘‘The international community gives them too much credence. Their pacifier falls out and they start crying. We should be tough, and people who threaten the stability in this country, we should not accommodate them.’’

After the runoff, Abdullah’s allegations of fraud led to considerable tension and fears of civil unrest. That complicated the Obama administration’s efforts to forge a security agreement to allow several thousand US troops to remain in Afghanistan after most other NATO forces withdraw this year.

Concerns about violence were heightened by an apparent split among voters along ethnic lines. Ghani, who is Pashtun, received his greatest support among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group. Abdullah’s mother is of Tajik descent and his father was Pashtun, but Abdullah appeared to receive most of his support from predominantly Tajik areas of northern Afghanistan, where Massoud, his late mentor and an ethnic Tajik, was revered.

In a statement, the United Nations said it is reviewing Abdullah’s concerns and will ‘‘continue to work with both campaigns’’ to refine the recount process. But it stressed that the audit will continue even if Abdullah withdraws his support.

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