Taliban slams Afghanistan's unity government as president-elect steps forth

A powersharing deal inked by rival candidates paves the way for former finance minister Ashraf Ghani to succeed President Hamid Karzai. The runner-up in the disputed election will remain a powerful player. 

Massoud Hossaini/AP
Afghanistan's presidential election candidates Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, right, shake hands after signing a power-sharing deal at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014.

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Afghanistan got a new president under a powersharing agreement this weekend, after months of tension following a disputed June runoff. But some observers worry that the extended political uncertainty, combined with the drawdown of most foreign troops and a troubled economy, has handed an advantage to Taliban insurgents. 

Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was named president-elect on Sunday, beating his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who will join a unity government. Both sides had accused the other of electoral fraud, but no final vote tally was publicly announced, reports the BBC.

The Taliban released a statement Monday condemning the unity pact as a “sham.”

"Installing Ashraf Ghani and forming a bogus administration will never be acceptable to the Afghans,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told journalists by e-mail. “The Americans must understand that our soil and land belong to us and all decisions and agreements are made by Afghans, not by the US foreign secretary or ambassador."

The international community pushed hard for the deal: US Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned the rival candidates for weeks, encouraging them to find common ground, Reuters reports.

The president is slated to share power with a chief executive – who will be nominated by Mr. Abdullah. Mr. Abdullah could also take the position. Together, Mr. Ghani and the chief executive will manage key decisions and institutions, including the Army. 

But there is skepticism over the agreement. “They have created a fabricated national unity government, and I don’t think such a government can last,” Wadir Safi, a political analyst at Kabul University, told The New York Times.

The Christian Science Monitor reports, "Essentially, there will be two power centers in the executive branch of government. Given the bad blood between the two camps, it will be a test of their political skills to keep it on track. And the result could be an even more bloated executive that costs more to run."

Both leaders support a long-delayed bilateral security agreement with the US, in part because of growing security challenges that have come out of the election uncertainty, The New York Times reports. 

There are strong indications …  that the Taliban have taken advantage of the power vacuum caused by the long election imbroglio to step up their campaign, carrying out 700 ground offensives in the first six months of the current Afghan year, which began March 21, and killing 1,368 policemen and 800 soldiers, more than in any similar period.

Both Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah have similar views on fighting the Taliban, agreeing that the country needs the sort of wartime commander in chief it has not had under [incumbent President Hamid Karzai], who has long seemed as if he simply wanted to wish the war away.

Ghani told citizens Sunday that poverty, income inequality, a lack of education, and insecurity are Afghanistan’s “enemies, and not their fellow citizens,” reports The Associated Press.

"This victory isn't just about winning an election. It's a victory for democracy, for our constitution and for our future," Ghani said in a statement. "Together, we have turned the page and written a new chapter in our long and proud history — the first peaceful democratic transition between one elected president and another."

Despite the collective sigh of relief at electing a leader, and the hope that a unity deal can provide a path forward, Shahmahmood Miakhel, country director for Afghanistan at the US Institute of Peace and a former deputy minister of interior for Afghanistan, warns that the powersharing deal is little more than a “quick fix.”

Mr. Miakhel writes in Foreign Policy that the deal could exacerbate deep-seated challenges, including combating the Taliban and building trust in governing institutions.

Afghans voted, despite all odds and threats of violence, in order to gain for themselves and their families a better future. But the process of auditing the ballots has dragged on for two months ... Instead of allowing the electoral process to work, even imperfectly, the international community imposed this deal as a quick fix…. It is difficult to see how the parties that have failed to agree to a power-sharing agreement for two months, despite intense pressure to do so, will be able to effectively share power….

Experience from other countries where international mediators have attempted to forge power-sharing agreements after highly disputed election outcomes, including Cambodia in 1993Cote D'Ivoire in 2001, and Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2008, demonstrates the fragility of such arrangements over the long run. In 2004, the international community urged Afghans to create a constitution as a means of establishing long-term stability. Ten years later, in order to solve a short -term political problem, it has created another quick fix – but this one will likely make the constitution unworkable.  As a famous Afghan saying reminds us: "A thousand beggars can live under one quilt, but two kings cannot share a kingdom."

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