On 12 July, the two candidates in Afghanistan's presidential race -- Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani -- agreed to resolve their contest through a complete audit of votes cast in the June run-off elections. The purpose of the audit -- secured with the assistance of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry -- is simple and essential: to weed out fraudulent ballots and determine the will of the millions of Afghans who braved Taliban threats to make their voices heard.
The two candidates committed to accept the results of this audit regardless of the outcome. They resolved to form a government of national unity. Both candidates, together with the United Nations, asked President Hamid Karzai to postpone the inauguration of his successor until the audit was complete.
This was a powerful -- and necessary -- act of statesmanship by all three leaders to help ensure the first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.
The audit process continues apace in a way that is unprecedented in scale, depth of scrutiny and levels of oversight.
More than 22,000 ballot boxes from across Afghanistan's 34 provinces were transported to Kabul by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United Nations, coordinated with Afghan security forces and accompanied at all times by the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and representatives of each campaign.
Hundreds of Afghan observers, candidate agents, international observers and UN electoral experts from around the world have been mobilized to scrutinize the ballot boxes.
Professional electoral personnel from the European Union, U.S. non-governmental organizations and the Asian Network for Free Elections have joined Afghan observers as the IEC opened, examined and, if needed, recounted ballot boxes in their presence. Transparency is labour and time-intensive: the audit has taken place in five warehouses, in two shifts, seven days a week.
The candidates and their teams have been involved in every stage of the process. At their request, the United Nations provided expert advice on procedures and criteria for the invalidation of votes.
Joint oversight ensured that candidate inputs and concerns were addressed. As new information came to light, the process was continually refined through special scrutiny, by which each candidate could select up to 3000 ballots for further review and recounting.
The audit is now nearing the finish line with the review of more than 50 percent of the ballots. But its completion will depend on more than technical measures. Ultimately, the process rests on the willingness of the candidates to respect the results.
The future of Afghanistan's political transition -- as well as international support for the Afghan army and police -- hangs in the balance. Economic stability in the war-ravaged and aid-dependent country is at risk. So, too, is the Afghan people's trust in democratic institutions and their political leaders.
Afghanistan's leaders have a responsibility to honor the faith that voters have placed in democracy and to avoid the divisive ethnic strife that has marked so much of its history.
Now is the time to count the ballots, make good on commitments, respect the results, and turn the page to a new era of opportunity and hope that the Afghan people so need and deserve.
Jan Eliasson serves as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.