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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Update on Afghanistan Elections

Dan Feldman
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 

Washington, DC
July 18, 2014

10:45 A.M. EDT


MR. FELDMAN: Thanks very much for being here. I wanted to take the opportunity to be able to answer questions and give a little background information about the Afghan election auditing process, which was agreed to last weekend when Secretary Kerry was in the country. I was traveling with Secretary Kerry, I was part of many of those discussions, and I’m helping to lead the effort here in Washington at this point to oversee and ensure that what was committed to in words is followed by actions. And there’s much to be done, particularly on the technical side, given the agreement for an audit that was this unprecedented really in terms of scale and scope and rigor, in terms of the processes undertaken and the very, very robust role of the international community in all this both in terms of the international observers and the supervisory role that the UN will be playing in this.

So to be able to kind of answer any questions because it’s been – the process has – over the course of the last week has continued to be furthered and obviously we’ve gotten to the point now where the auditing – the auditing itself has started yesterday and continues today. But obviously given something – setting something up of this nature, there will be many, many questions and issues to work through, and I wanted to be able to be available for questions that you may have.

But we were very pleased that the auditing itself started yesterday under the very close supervision of the UN, and in particular, there’s kind of two parts of a balloting – of an auditing process: the data collection and then the analysis. And so it was this data collection that began yesterday when 33 boxes were audited, and continues today. Over a hundred boxes were audited this morning. The afternoon shift was still continuing when I left the office, so we’ll see how many came from that, and there are over 50 domestic and 30 international observers there today as part of this process.

This will eventually, obviously, scale up in the coming weeks. We are looking at 23,000 boxes altogether, so we will probably get to a point of auditing roughly a thousand boxes a day once we have in place the full-scale regimen of international observers and all kind of agreed protocols. So we always knew that we would take it slowly these first few days as we ramped up and as we used resources within country, and we’ll increasingly see us getting up to that level of roughly a thousand boxes a day.

Obviously, the purpose of the audit is to finalize and legitimize the election and honor the millions of Afghans who participated in this, against sometimes great odds. And there’s still work to be done, but we are working very, very closely with both candidates through our Embassy in Kabul and back here in Washington, with Afghan officials, and in particular with UNAMA, the UN Mission to Afghanistan, as well as the UN, to ensure that this July 12th agreement is really translated into action.

As you’ve seen, the audit is being conducted fully in Kabul by the IEC, under the very, very close supervision of the United Nations and in accordance with international best practices, using – it was one of the issues that we negotiated while we were in Kabul – the initial IEC checklist which has been supplemented by several other particular issues to look at in each ballot box that were recommended by the UN as part of international best practice recommendations. Those have all been adopted now formally by the IEC, and that checklist is being filled out for every ballot box examined.

All boxes – and to give you a sense of the scale, I think we’ll try to get some visual images at some point soon – but it’s being done in a warehouse, which ultimately will accommodate a hundred tables, each table looking at one ballot box, and in shifts of five hours – one in the morning, one in the afternoon. So auditing for at least 10 hours a day. And each one of those tables – I think it’s quite remarkable – will have an auditing team around it, which will consist of IEC and Electoral Complaints Commission representatives, but most notably candidate agents of both candidates to ensure full legitimacy and transparency of the process, as well as international observers for each table; domestic observers; frequently the media, as they’re able to cover the process; and then most notably UN personnel. So this will be repeated when we are up to full speed and full scale on a very significant scale – a hundred times over. And we heard yesterday that the audit’s proceeded very professionally. It set a good tone for the process. And I think as we get further and further through the process, there will be more comfort about the way it operates and we should be able to go faster in that way as well.

Altogether, we already have 150 accredited international observers in Kabul. We’re expecting by next week that between EU and U.S. and other assets, we’ll bring in an additional 160 professional observers to continue this process. There are – as I said, there are 23,000 boxes roughly altogether. They are starting the auditing process with ballots – ballot boxes from Kabul and then there will be kind of on a rolling basis, as we continue to get ballot boxes into Kabul, expanded to those from other provinces. I believe that ISAF will hopefully transport 2,500 ballot boxes today. I think by the end of tomorrow, they’re estimating that they’ll have transported 5-6,000 ballot boxes, and again we’ll continue this process in the coming days until all ballot boxes reside in Kabul where they will be secured. They’re being secured by ISAF and ANSF security, and there will be full security on the – at the IEC warehouse where all of this counting will take place.

Both candidates have agreed to abide by the results they audit and that the winner of the election will serve as president, and will immediately form a government of national unity. There’s obviously still significant work to be done, and the job won’t be finished until Afghanistan’s leaders finalize the election and establish this national unity government, which really honors the will of the millions of Afghans who are determined to make their voices heard during the elections despite real security threats from the Taliban. But it’s clear that Afghans want a democracy that works for all of them and that both candidates ultimately benefit from a process that ensures exactly that. And both candidates recognized that there’s been too much progress in Afghanistan, particularly over the course of the last 13 years, to turn back that clock. And we want to ensure that this election legitimizes the will of the Afghan people and builds on the successes of the last 13 years in social services and education and health issues and democratization initiatives and the role of women. And that can only be continued if there’s a legitimate results of these elections, which is clearly recognized.

So it’s our hope that all Afghans, regardless of who they supported, will ultimately join together and support this process, build – continue to build a better future for their nation. And the U.S., as we’ve long said, supports a sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and our commitment to that future is absolutely clear. President Obama and Secretary Kerry have said many times it’s not up to the U.S. to determine who will lead Afghanistan nor should it be. We have never supported an individual candidate in the course of this process, but we do want to support this credible, transparent, and inclusive process that will give the next President of Afghanistan the legitimacy and a mandate to lead.

So let me stop there and happy to take questions.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll go to questions. I just ask, please identify yourself by name and outlet. New York, our colleague there, if you have a question, please approach the podium, and we’ll call you in due order. And I’ll move here to the front.

QUESTION: My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. Does this work? Because my voice (inaudible). Nazira Azim Karimi, correspondent for Ariana Television Network from Afghanistan. My question is – first of all, congratulation on your new position.

MR. FELDMAN: Thank you.

QUESTION: And the question is: Do you see any difference between the previous time and this time? And the second question: President --

MR. FELDMAN: Previous – to clarify the previous time --

QUESTION: Previous, yeah --

MR. FELDMAN: -- from when?

QUESTION: Vote – I mean count and the vote.

MR. FELDMAN: From a few weeks ago or --

QUESTION: The election.

MR. FELDMAN: -- from the previous – from the last --

QUESTION: No, no, no, no. This time. This time. The first time. The first --

MR. FELDMAN: The first round of elections.

QUESTION: Yes, yes. And what is the difference? Because they started yesterday.

And the second question: President Karzai was a little disappointed that U.S. – as soon as John Kerry went to Afghanistan to solve the problem between two candidates, President Karzai was a little disappointed that why U.S. interferes. Almost Afghan people supposed to solve this problem. Thank you.

MR. FELDMAN: I’m not sure I understand the difference in the – are you asking between the first round in April and --

QUESTION: Yes, of this election.

MR. FELDMAN: Okay. They’re obviously very different elections processes, because the first round had many, many candidates. The results were fairly clear, and the systems worked in terms of the complaints commission and the IEC, and it was seen as broadly credible. The results of that – the first round were seen as broadly credible by the Afghan people. Given the allegations of very, very serious fraud in this round, there was real question about the legitimacy of those results, and so that’s why it was necessary to do this on this second round. But no one is seeking to reopen the first round, and I think the Afghan people feel that that result of the final two candidates who went onto the second round was a legitimate one.

In terms of President Karzai, no, I don’t – I disagree that he was disappointed with the U.S. role. If anything, he worked very closely with us while we were there. He was broadly supportive of what came out of this process. Secretary Kerry was consulting with him frequently throughout this whole process. We went to the palace four times in the course of 48 hours, including effectively our first trip out of the Embassy compound and our last trip from the Embassy before Secretary Kerry left. His final press conference was with President Karzai, and they both endorsed this technical framework and political framework, and we’re quite pleased with the president’s engagement and his willingness to defer the inauguration date by a short time until we can get a legitimate president inaugurated.

MODERATOR: I’ll go to the back, and then I’ll go to New York.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning. My name is Xavier Vila from Catalunya Radio, public radio in Barcelona. My question is: Can you set a date for the process to be done?

The second one would be: Why did you start all this process without all the effectives being there? You were telling us that more people will be getting there eventually, next week and the following days.

And the last one: To what extent do you feel that the violence that still rages the country will be an impediment for this process to go along? Thank you.

MR. FELDMAN: In terms of setting an end date, no, again. I think the answers to both your first and second questions are that the nature of this process, again, given the really unprecedented nature of it, the size and scale and role of the international community, we’ll be – we’re creating – the process is being created as its implemented. So I can’t tell you the specific end date, because there will undoubtedly be issues that arise that we’ll need to work through. What we hope is that it will not extend the initial August 2nd inauguration date more than a very short period and I think that that’s possible. It depends on all sorts of ongoing logistics, so how soon will it take to get all the ballots to Kabul, how can we get up to that thousand ballot boxes audited a day figure fairly soon, how does the complaints mechanism work? There’s a range of thing which we’ll – still have to see how it’s ultimately operationalized, but our goal and our planning is that it will not extend that August 2nd date very much, and we’ll have to see where that goes.

In terms of – similarly, your question about why didn’t we have this in place, it was very, very important given the fact that the Secretary arrived, I think, at a fairly perilous moment when there had been talk of parallel governments and that the elections process seemed broadly discredited, that we needed to put together a framework as soon as possible. And that’s all this is. All that we agreed to was a one-page skeletal framework on the technical process and something parallel on the political process. And it’s – for the Afghans, with the help of the international community when appropriate, like on the technical piece, to continue to try to flush that out. And we’re doing that as soon as possible.

We announced – as part of the Secretary’s announcement on Saturday night, he said that the process would begin within 24 hours, and it did. The IEC met the next day; it looked at the checklist and moved to adopt it, which had been decided between the candidates. It most notably had both candidates’ representatives there as part of that meeting for the first time, signaling that Dr. Abdullah’s team had rejoined the process. And it started working through all these processes.

But this could take – there are many issues to be decided upon, and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t actually start opening boxes and looking at audits until there were agreed processes in place. We want to make sure that this process is as legitimate and unimpeachable as possible. And so we did it when we were ready, and that happened yesterday, and we will continue to scale up.

In terms of violence, obviously there’s been – this is a society that’s been in conflict for many, many, many years. That conflict is not necessarily receding because of an elections timetable. By the same token, I think doing the counting in Kabul with observers in Kabul will hopefully mean that we can keep to as much of the timetable as we hoped to, and it should not be impeded that much by violence that may occur elsewhere in the country.

MODERATOR: I’d like to go to New York now.

QUESTION: Okay. Mr. Li from People’s Daily. I wonder, what is your solution if the two candidates still don’t agree to the final result? And there is a saying that the bomb attack to the civilians not long ago was committed by Abdullah’s faction rather than Taliban. So what is your analysis? Thank you.

MR. FELDMAN: I didn’t hear the last part. The saying that said what?

QUESTION: Yeah. And there is a saying that the bomb attack to the civilians not long ago was committed by Abdullah’s faction rather than Taliban. And what is your analysis on that?

MR. FELDMAN: I would say that the whole purpose of this agreement was to ensure that both candidates bought into the final process. And so that’s why the legitimacy of this process is so important; it’s why the supervisory role of the UN is so important; it’s why the international presence of observers is so important; it’s why the international commitment to move and transport and secure the boxes is so important.

So we are trying to ensure that this is as credible as possible, but to also ensure, then, that both candidates are committed to the final result. And that’s why, also, the political agreement is then so important in terms of the laying out how a government of national unity is actually formed and that there will be a government that is broadly representative of all the people of Afghanistan.

That political piece wasn’t necessarily due to the fact that this was an election marred by allegations of very significant fraud. The political piece is due to the fact that this is a country that has political divisions, ethnic divisions, geographic divisions, and where the electorate is very, very close. And so not just for this election but for the future of Afghanistan, we have to ensure that the people who voted feel that they are representative in a government of national unity. And that’s why this political piece of it which the Afghans will make public is so critical, and it’s why we ultimately have confidence that a government can emerge that will help to continue to build a stable and unified Afghanistan.

MODERATOR: Other questions? I’ll go here, and then to the front.

QUESTION: Yuri Sigov of Business People magazine. My question is about efficiency of the future Afghan president. Doesn’t matter who wins the elections. What do you think about the real authority of this president, taking into account that in Afghanistan they never recognize the centralized power? In the south now, Taliban controls many areas; in the north, Uzbek leader General Dostum; and in some other areas, also there are local warlords and kingpins that have nothing to do with Kabul. How efficiently the new Afghan president can be in this situation?

MR. FELDMAN: I have great hopes that the government that emerges from this process will be able to be more efficient, more effective, and more responsive to the Afghan people than ever before. And I think it’s due to both parts of this agreement. I think it’s critical that an audit of this size and scale was conducted to confer the legitimacy on whoever’s ultimately elected president and to allow that candidate to govern effectively. But I think it’s just as important, if not more so, that this is a commitment to a government of national unity.

And so by ensuring that it’s so broadly representative of all Afghans, ensuring that it reflects the ethnic makeup, the political makeup, and the regional makeup that could divide the country, but it’s all represented in the leadership of the country helps to ensure that they don’t succumb to some of those divisions, and in fact actually have the opportunity to have a much more strengthened government process and ultimately a more efficient one, and one that both candidates have spoken quite a bit about the need for economic stability and sustainability, investment, trade, and that a government that – of this sort of national unity would be able to pursue that quite effectively.

MODERATOR: You had a question in the front?

QUESTION: Ali Imran from the Associated Press of Pakistan. Thank you, Dan, and the FPC for the opportunity. Can you elaborate on the government of national unity? Will it include the reconciliation piece involving bringing in the militant factions? And also, if there is a possibility that this government would include people, representatives from both parties, the parties of both leading candidates? And thirdly, would you be able to confirm reports that as part of this deal, there would be the position of prime minister created in the next government. And if I may, on the second part of the question – (Laughter.)

MR. FELDMAN: The fifth part of the question?

QUESTION: I want (inaudible) going forward --


QUESTION: -- how do you look, given the continuity of the challenges on the Afghan-Pakistan border, since you are representative to both countries? How would you like to see the cooperative relationship between the two governments, once the new government is formed? Thank you.

MR. FELDMAN: Regarding the government of national unity, we – Secretary Kerry helped to facilitate both candidates coming to this agreement on what a national unity government political framework would look like. But this was, and must be in the future, an Afghan process to determine what their own government looks like under their next president. So I can tell you only that there is a structure and an agreement in place, a very – much like the technical agreement just a framework, a framework that has to be fleshed out by Afghans. And the details will have to be worked out, and I’ll leave it to the Afghans themselves to describe that agreement.

I’m heartened by the fact that Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani have met now – subsequently several times since the announcement with Secretary Kerry. Part of it is to continue to work out these political issues, as well as the technical issues. I think the more that they work together and their teams work together and build confidence and trust among them, the better and more effective the ultimate government of national unity will be. So we’ll just have to wait on that piece until they’re ready to say something themselves.

I think regionally, my answer is similar, in fact, to the one on economic efficiencies. I think the more likely that a government will ultimately be put in place that is – that overcomes the fissures that could divide Afghanistan and is broadly representative and demonstrates a unified commitment to the future of Afghanistan, the more efficient it will be both in terms of issues like economic stability, but also the more effective it can be in helping to maintain political stability on its various borders, particularly the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship.

And I think that this is a – it will be a new opportunity. Elections are always a new opportunity and fresh starts to rebuild relationships. And given the relative newness Prime Minister Sharif in Pakistan and the upcoming president in Afghanistan, I think that there will be opportunities to recalibrate and strengthen and enhance a relationship that works for Afghans and Pakistanis.

MODERATOR: Do we have additional questions? Okay, quick.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Oliver Grimm for the Austrian newspaper Die Presse. Sorry if you mentioned that already in the beginning, but I was sadly stuck in a bus, so --


QUESTION: -- I was late. Do – so when you look at these 23,000 boxes and the huge numbers of maybe fraudulent ballots or missing ballots and so forth, could there be a point where you say – well, I mean, “There’s been such widespread fraud that whatever we arrive at now counting these ballots, that you couldn’t really consider that a legitimate election anymore,” because the results would be so off, there’s such widespread fraud. Do you have any sort of set of rules for that, to assess whether in spite of fraud in this or that place, you could still consider it legitimate? Or might be there a point where you say, “Well, this is so off the charts that actually, we have to – we would have to repeat it”?

MR. FELDMAN: No one is talking about repeating the election. We are ensuring that the ballots that we have will be examined and scrutinized in such a way that the result will be the legitimate one, and that takes an enormous scale to ensure that that occurs. It requires all the international observers, it requires the UN supervision, it most of all requires the candidate agents being a part of that.

But assuming that this process goes forward and all those stakeholders are involved and the ballot boxes can be looked at on an individualized basis and then thrown out or not, I’m confident that we can get to a legitimate result, just as past elections in Afghanistan have shown. I mean, I think in the 2009 election over a million ballots were ultimately thrown out, but the results were seen as widely legitimate. In the first round of these elections, I believe close to 500,000 ballots were ultimately thrown out, but the results were seen as widely legitimate.

I think that, if merited and a very, very significant number of ballots are ultimately thrown out, that will – it will still be a legitimate election. In fact, that may cause it to be more legitimate, because it’s seen that these allegations of fraud were dealt with within the process, within the system, and then Afghanistan can move forward with its elected president.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

If we don’t – one more question. Do we have time for one more?


MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll do one more question, and then we’ll have to call it.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. What role you will play as a U.S. representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Because it seems that Pakistan always interfere to Afghanistan, and Pakistan the only neighbor country that doesn’t want Afghanistan to be stabilized, people say. And what will be exactly your role, and what will be the different of your role between you and James Dobbins, the previous one, that he done in Afghanistan? Do you think that he was successful so far to work between two countries?

MR. FELDMAN: I think Ambassador Dobbins had a very successful tenure. I was very honored to serve as his principle deputy. I was also the deputy for his two successors – his two predecessors, both Ambassador Marc Grossman and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. So I’ve been with the Office of the Special Representative since, effectively, its inception five years ago. And I was honored when Secretary Kerry asked me to become the next special representative to help ensure continuity of the purpose, and I will have the same role and mandate as all my predecessors had. So we will continue to work to bring stability to the region and work to ensure that the U.S.’s national security interests are met. And I would disagree that – I think it’s in the interests of all countries in the region to have stability there, whether it’s stability along that border or other borders. And we have to all work towards a common purpose here, and I think that’s a belief probably shared through the region.

MODERATOR: Great. Do you have time for a follow-up? We’ll take this last question.

MR. FELDMAN: Last question.

MODERATOR: Last question. Then we really do have to wrap it up because he has an engagement to attend to.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just one question: Since Pakistan has launched this large-scale operation in tribal areas, it has also been demanding that militant leader Fazlullah, who is hiding in Nuristan – in Afghanistan province – and has asked Afghanistan as well to stop him from carrying out attacks on Pakistani security forces. What is the level of cooperation you are seeing, and how can you assist two countries to resolve these issues? Thank you.

MR. FELDMAN: There are many efforts underway that help to ensure coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan – sometimes with U.S. engagement, sometimes without, sometimes other multilateral fora – and they’re in diplomatic channels and military channels and elsewhere. So I’m hopeful that we can continue to build coordination. I can’t get into specific requests or specific military or other counterterrorism actions, but I can say that we’ve long – I’ll leave it at a fairly generalized. We have always continued a robust campaign through diplomatic, military, and intelligence channels to seek to address common counterterrorism threats. So we’ll leave it at that.

MODERATOR: Great. And with that, I’ll have to close the briefing. We are now officially off the record. Thank you again for coming.

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