KABUL Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani cast fresh doubt over a deal to share power with his rival Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday, saying the accord was ambiguous and needed clarifying.
Abdullah was the clear winner in the first round of Afghanistan's presidential election in April, while a preliminary count showed Ghani won the run-off vote in June.
However, the ballot was marred by accusations of mass fraud, which in turn have fueled tensions between the rival camps, raising fears of a civil war along ethnic lines.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has twice flown to Kabul to try to defuse the crisis and last Friday helped persuade the pair to sign a framework agreement for sharing power, including control over key economic and security institutions.
Under the terms of the deal, the runner-up will be appointed to a specially created role of "chief executive", who will share equal control with the president over certain key decisions, such as nominating the head of the army and intelligence agency.
However, Ghani appeared to back away from the idea of sharing power on Tuesday, telling journalists the language of the document signed during Kerry's visit was unclear.
"Instead of getting into verbal disputes, this is one of the key areas our teams are working on," Ghani said. "The word parity can have a range of meanings."
Abdullah's spokesman replied that the framework accord clearly indicated government posts would be split between the candidates. "If it's not power-sharing, then what is it?" spokesman Mujib Rahman Rahimi said by phone late on Tuesday.
Abdullah has warned that violating the spirit of the deal would have dire consequences for national unity.
"It’s important that first of all we change the atmosphere from now on, from an atmosphere of campaigning against each other to an atmosphere of working together. That will help," Abdullah told Reuters after Kerry's last visit.
Each camp has appointed a commission to flesh out the accord and they met for the first time on Tuesday. Rahimi said he hoped their work would continue.
The United Nations is meanwhile supervising an audit of all eight million votes cast in the second round in the hope the election may yet produce a legitimate leader.
Outgoing President Hamid Karzai has set an end of August deadline for inaugurating his successor, but electoral officials fear the audit could drag on into September.
Nearly a month since the review started, a little over a quarter of the boxes have been checked according to the Independent Election Commission, and the process for invalidating votes has yet to start.
NATO warned on Monday it would soon be forced to take a decision on a total pullout from Afghanistan unless the political deadlock ended and a new president signed an agreement allowing foreign forces to stay.
(Additional reporting by Krista Mahr; Editing by Crispian Balmer)