Afghanistan A New Beginning
Although both Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah have agreed on making a national unity government, the road ahead for them is indeed tricky.
As the election impasse in Afghanistan ends, the country faces new and tougher challenges.
It may or may not last long, but the deal on the formation of a national unity government has finally brought Afghanistan out of the deadlock it was facing following the allegations of ‘industrial-level’ fraud in the June 14 runoff polls by one of the presidential hopefuls.
Without giving the vote figures, Chairman of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission Ahmad Yousaf Nuristani declared Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner. Hours later, a statement was issued from Hamid Karzai’s Presidential Palace that welcomed the deal between Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, congratulating the former over his victory as the new Afghan president.
Commending both Ghani and Abdullah, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that this was a moment of extraordinary statesmanship. “These two men have put the people of Afghanistan first, and they’ve ensured that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country begins with national unity.”
Although Ashraf Ghani was leading his rival Abdullah with more than a million votes, the result was kept pending till an agreement was reached with Dr. Abdullah, who refused to accept the validity of the elections.
The final outcome is the deal under which Dr. Ghani has become president while Dr. Abdullah is the chief executive officer, a newly-created position with functions almost like a prime minister.
Although the power-sharing deal between the two rivals has resolved the political stalemate in Afghanistan for the time being, the key question is how this setup led by the president and the CEO, who are poles apart in their thinking and strategies, will work and for how long?
One of the major tasks before the new Afghan president is the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, which allows a small number of U.S. soldiers to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
President Hamid Karzai, who had developed serious differences with the United States – they key backer of his
government – in the last years of his rule, had refused to sign the agreement. In their election campaigns, both Dr. Ahmadzai and Dr. Abdullah had spoken in the favor of this agreement and promised to sign it after coming to power.
Many Afghan analysts are of the view that the signing of the BSA will ensure the flow of money for reconstruction projects and the defense needs of the country. In fact, it will also prove a morale-booster for the Afghan security forces, which are facing the resurgent Taliban in several cities and provinces in the southern and eastern regions of the country.
Pointing to the signing of the BSA, John Kerry said in his message of felicitation that this “will open a new chapter in our enduring partnership with Afghanistan.”
The BSA apart, there are several visible glitches as the two former rivals move ahead with their government of national unity. According to some details made public, Ashraf Ghani, as president of Afghanistan, will be chairing his two deputies, the central cabinet and the CEO, while the CEO will be chairing the new council of ministers.
While the CEO will be answerable to the president, he will have a reasonable share in making appointments to key positions. In fact, the authority to appoint people to senior positions was one of the key demands of Dr. Abdullah during the negotiation process.
Ethnically too, both rival-turnedpartners belong to different parts of Afghanistan. Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun who won more votes in the Pashtun majority areas in the south and eastern regions, while Abdullah is an ethnic Tajik whose vote bank exists in the Tajik majority areas in the west and northern zones. It is likely that both rulers will strive to focus more on their respective ethnicities instead of the country as a whole.
It is a fact that the political deadlock had caused ethnic tension in the country where ethnic and clan rivalries date back to the civil strife and the Taliban regime in the 1990s. Since the majority of the Taliban belonged to the Pashtun parts in the south and east, the Taliban regime was seen as a Pashtun movement by their Tajik countrymen. Besides, the Taliban atrocities against the Shia (Hazara) minority also sowed the seeds of hatred among members of these communities.
One of the key points of Ashraf Ghani’s agenda during his election campaign was administrative reforms. However, now that he has to share power with Dr. Abdullah, it is difficult to say whether the plan will be a success.
One of Dr. Abdullah’s key supporters during his election campaign was Governor of Balkh Atta Muhammad Noor – a former warlord running the province since 2001 who paid little heed to some of President Hamid Karzai’s orders. Many wonder if Ghani will be successful in reining in Noor who is popularly known as Ustad Atta.
In the same token, Ghani’s key supporter was Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who will be his deputy for the next five years. Both Ustad Atta and Rashid Dostum are known for their bitter rivalry. How the two partners in the new national unity government will manage the rivals in their closest circles is a matter of concern for many.
While the agreement on the formation of a national unity government has resolved the crisis and paved the way for the signing of the BSA, analysts believe that only a very high degree of patience and tolerance on the part of the new team can enable the government to complete its fouryear term.