After a busy week of negotiations, yet with still no settlement between the two opposing camps, representatives of both presidential candidates on Friday maintained that they are optimistic about reaching an agreeable end to the election process soon.
Although Abdullah Abdullah's team indicated they remained hopeful, a resolution to the remaining disputes over the national unity government is on the horizon, they also revealed their continued suspicion of President Hamid Karzai and the possibility of him interfering in the final stages of the election.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's camp said they hope the negotiations will resolve themselves shortly and the presidential inauguration ceremony held before the NATO summit scheduled to begin on September 4 in Britain. The summit is thought to be a critical opportunity for the next Afghan president to set the tone for future relations with the western alliance ahead of its withdraw at the end of this year.
Over the past week, the candidates met directly a number of times, some of which included face time with President Karzai, United Nations (UN) officials, U.S. and European Union (EU) diplomats.
Abdullah's camp said Thursday, in particular, was a busy day for the diplomatic efforts of the international community. Among others, the candidates met with the newly appointed U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dan Feldman.
Despite the President Karzai publicly calling for an inauguration on September 2, Abdullah's team on Friday claimed both campaigns were concerned about him interfering in the final days of the election.
"Yesterday's meeting was conducted in a positive and frank way, and both sides had a common concern that if the candidates do not reach an agreement, perhaps President Karzai, who is already stalling and wants to plot a new conspiracy, will take initiative," Abdullah spokesman Syed Fazel Aqa Hussain Sancharaki said.
However, Ghani's representatives did not publicly express any such concerns of their own, but rather just emphasized their hope that the remaining disagreements between the candidates would be put to rest. According to Ghani's camp, another meeting will be held Friday or Saturday.
"Last night, another meeting was held between the candidates over the disputed points and views were exchanged to reach an outcome," Ghani spokesman Tahir Zuhair said. "It is expected that the meetings will be continued, today or tomorrow, the candidates will meet again and we are hopeful that they will reach a conclusion."
Zuhair also said that his team was still hopeful that the election would end and the new president sworn in before the NATO conference. If a president is in office by September 4, it is expected that he would sign the long-awaited Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. at, or soon after, the conference. Both candidates have promised to endorse the security pact, which would allow foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan post-2014.
Nevertheless, Abdullah's camp has been firm in their stance that the election results will not be announced until after the candidates have reached full agreement over their power-sharing arrangement.
"The two sides talked on a common text with a balanced approach on how to explain the national unity government to guarantee the equal participation of the two sides in it," Sancharaki said on Friday, referring to the previous day's negotiations.
With audit process still ongoing, Abdullah's camp also said that it has referred more documents to the UN regarding cases of fraud in the election.
The UN has reportedly urged President Karzai to accept that the inauguration will not happen on September 2, saying the audit process will not be completed by then. According to a Presidential Palace press release, the likely timeframe for the inauguration is somewhere between September 2 and September 10. The release did not elaborate on Karzai's stance.