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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Wins 2nd Term, Months After Voting Ended

NOEL KING, HOST:

Almost five months ago, Afghanistan held a presidential election. Then there was a fight over the results. And now the Afghan Election Commission says there is a winner, and it is the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani. But the man running against him says he's not going to accept those results. Now, all of this is happening while the U.S. and the Taliban are trying to work out a peace deal, so there's a lot of confusion here. NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Kabul. Good morning, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So Ashraf Ghani has been declared the winner. Is he seizing on that today?

HADID: Yeah. He met today with members of his security forces and local officials, perhaps to underscore that he's actually in charge. His mandate really does appear to have been weakened, though, from the get-go because there was such a low voter turnout. And that really long dispute over the ballot count also weakened it a lot. So as you mentioned, his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, had announced his own parallel government. And today, one notorious warlord said that he would support that rival government. And we're just seeing now - local media is now reporting that another former senior intelligence official will support it as well. And Abdullah's demanded that the election commission members should be barred from leaving the country. Now, this doesn't have any legal validity, but you get a sense of the political crisis at hand. And it's not just that. The Taliban also said they wouldn't recognize the results of this presidential election and said it would complicate the pending deal they're going to be signing with the United States.

KING: I want to ask you about that peace deal in a second because we've had you on over the past couple of days talking quite a bit about it. But I am just super curious. This sounds like a real mess. How are people in Kabul feeling today?

HADID: It feels really tense today. We went for a quick drive out in the morning, and Kabul's a city of checkpoints and high blast walls. But this was different. Security forces had deployed in really thick numbers across the city, especially around sensitive places like the presidential palace and the Green Zone. There was intelligence officials, police, military, all in their different camouflage uniforms holding assault rifles, checking cars, stopping cars. They'd sealed off key roads. We saw bakeries, which dot nearly every street here, they were empty. And the butcher shops, which normally hang out lots of fresh cuts of meat to entice customers, hadn't bothered to put out much because there just weren't many people around. And so it's good to hear from our producer in Kabul, Khwaga Ghani. She was in the car with me.

KHWAGA GHANI, BYLINE: Today, you see it's - there are not a lot of cars here. There are going to be clashes. They're scared of Taliban, and they're scared of Abdullah Abdullah. People are scared of getting out of their houses now.

KING: So people are actually frightened that there might be violence. Is the government doing anything to calm them down?

HADID: Well, the government is saying that everything's OK and not to worry. And that was certainly the message we got. We spoke to one of President Ghani's senior advisers. His name is Daoud Sultanzoy (ph). And he spoke to us on a wobbly line and said, no, everything's in hand.

DAOUD SULTANZOY: No. We are not worried about that because our military and our security forces have come a long way. Our security apparatus are fully capable to keep everything in order.

KING: All right. So he's saying it's going to be fine. There is a bigger question here, though, right? We've been talking about this peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban. Everybody has been awaiting it very anxiously. How does this complicate things?

HADID: Right. So it's going to complicate that because a part of this peace deal will involve negotiations between the Taliban and Afghans on the future of the country. But that's not the first step. The first step is that the Taliban will scale back their attacks for seven days. And if that happens, then they'll sign an agreement with the Americans that will kick off this deal. Then those negotiations are meant to happen. Now, there's a question about whether this can really happen if President Ashraf Ghani is being so weakened by this political crisis surrounding him. But we spoke to a spokesperson for the president and he says, no, they do have a mandate, and they'll have a small team to negotiate all of these matters. And then he says they'll take that negotiation to a broader Afghan council - it's called a loya jirga - and they'll decide whether they want to accept it or not. So there's still a lot of tricky times ahead.

KING: Diaa, thanks so much.

HADID: Thank you, Noel.

KING: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Kabul, Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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