Three airless aluminium warehouses, shaped like giant armadillos, sit hunched on the outskirts of Kabul. Inside hundreds of volunteers and international election observers have been bustling around in stifling heat, arguing over the shape of tick-marks on individual ballots. During Ramadan the lack of food and drink made the stale atmosphere inside the godowns all the more draining. The Ramadan fast has since broken, but the counting goes on. Until it has finished, the presidential election that was supposed to replace Hamid Karzai hangs in suspension. After a surprising reversal of fortunes suddenly favoured Ashraf Ghani in the second round of the presidential elections, his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, cried foul. Alleging fraud, several of his powerful supporters threatened to establish a breakaway government. It took an emergency agreement brokered by John Kerry, America’s secretary of state, to keep the process alive, but the deal is starting to show some of its inherent flaws. Mr Kerry has moved on and the two presidential hopefuls are now left to wrestle over its shortcomings.
To prevent Afghanistan from splitting down the middle, the candidates committed themselves to a two-pronged agreement: a full, internationally supervised audit of all 8m votes cast; and the formation of a government of national unity. Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah were induced to hug each other before Mr Kerry and the cameras on July 12th. Since then the mood has soured.
One dispute is over the national-unity bit of the deal. Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah agreed to divide power between the president and a “chief of the executive council”, to be nominated by the losing side. In two years’ time, a loya jirga (a gathering of tribal elders, local power-brokers and elected officials) is to vote on the option to turn the new executive role into the post of prime minister.