Afghanistan's main opposition leader bowed out of the presidential contest peacefully – and even urged supporters not to protest.
But he's not letting Hamid Karzai retake power that easily.
In a press conference Wednesday, three days since dropping out of the race, Abdullah Abdullah questioned the legitimacy of President Karzai's new government, saying it fell to the people of Afghanistan to decide and declaring the decision to cancel the election runoff "illegal."
Commenting on the death of five British soldiers Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah suggested the controversial elections result would only result in Western countries needing to send more troops.
"Eight years down the road we still need more troops. In the absence of a credible, reliable, and legitimate partner, more soldiers, more resources are the only thing which will be resulted," said Dr. Abdullah.
Election fiasco spurs calls for more US troops
The messy elections have, so far, dampened enthusiasm in Washington over sending more troops, since additional forces are tied to a counterinsurgency strategy that hopes to win back popular support for the government. But with the elections finished, some Afghans are couching the need for more troops in terms of simply stopping the insurgency from spreading, particularly in once-stable northern areas where Abdullah's loss is alienating political leaders.
"The northern area … is the emerging area for insurgency," says Waliullah Rahmani, the executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. The Americans and the Karzai administration, he says, need to send more forces there and to fix the rift with Abdullah.
"They will not be able to follow a successful strategy in the northern areas of stabilizing the situation there without, for example, the Abdullah bloc."
Abdullah himself said many of the Afghan and international community goals for better governance would be futile given the genesis of this new government.
"A government which in its formation is based on an illegal decision by a body, to hope that the second government would deliver in dealing with the corruption, issues of governance, [improving] security in this country, it sounds like an exaggeration," said Abdullah.
The north has seen a rise in attacks over the past year. Partly, this is from Taliban finding new entry points into the region, and partly from increased activity of Hizb-e-Islami forces aligned with the Taliban.
Rahmani says it's too early to know what, if any, impact unhappiness in the north over the election might have on former mujahideen and Islamist party commanders. These figures – particularly those once aligned with the parties of Hizb-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Islami – form the dry tinder for a northern insurgency to spread.
"The north has the potential for insurgency and, of course, if you do not have supportive elements and correctors in these areas to control the province, then for sure insurgent elements will have a wider ground. So the Obama administration should decide to send more troops to Afghanistan," he says.
Offsetting these concerns, however, is the fact that Abdullah has consistently appealed for nonviolence and come out against popular street demonstrations. He reiterated that message Wednesday, despite word from top supporters yesterday that demonstrations were under consideration.
"I wish for my people to be calm and patient and to live in a peaceful environment. So do not do illegal things," Abdullah said.
Support for a Karzai-Abdullah deal
He went on to deny that there was any sort of deal in the works for some of his supporters to take cabinet positions in the new Karzai government. "We are not going to deal," he said, and as for a position for himself: "I am not interested." The last time he met with Karzai, he said, was over a week ago.
Rahmani says that private conversations around Kabul reveal there are negotiations over handing some key ministries over to Abdullah's supporters. The US should push strongly for this, he argues, by telling Abdullah: "Let's not put Afghanistan in crisis."
Interviews with Karzai supporters around Kabul suggest there is general support for welcoming Abdullah or his people into the new government.
"For the rehabilitation of Afghanistan, we would have nothing against [Abdullah]. If he came to the government, we would be happy," says Kasim Khalil, a retired military general and campaigner for Karzai
Another Karzai voter, Hafiz Tarakhil, said such a union would be good, but so would Abdullah as an opposition figure.
"If we were to continue his opposition that is also good because the government should have an opposite side," says Mr. Tarkahil.