Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah sign power-sharing deal
Settlement of months-long dispute clears path for progress on peace talks with Taliban
Months of uncertainty ended in Afghanistan on Sunday when a political agreement was signed between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah, with both sharing power equally.
The deal confirms Mr Ghani as President and Dr Abdullah as Chairman of the National Reconciliation High Council, to lead peace negotiations with the Taliban, which have been postponed for months.
Both leaders will appoint an equal number of Cabinet ministers.
“The agreement signed today is not a privilege or a handout. It is rooted in the last election and every clean vote,” Dr Abdullah tweeted.
He said both leaders would commit to a more inclusive, accountable and competent administration.
“It comes at a very difficult time when we face serious threats," Dr Abdullah said.
"It is meant to ensure a path to peace, improve governance, protect rights, respect laws and values."
Sunday’s agreement, which was signed in the afternoon, has been welcomed internationally.
“It is more important than ever that all Afghan leaders unite and work towards enduring peace in Afghanistan,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of Nato.
Mr Stoltenberg called on the Taliban to reduce violence and take part in intra-Afghan negotiations.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the deal, but chided Mr Ghani and Dr Abdullah for taking so long.
"Secretary Pompeo noted that he regretted the time lost during the political impasse," said Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman.
Under the agreement, former Afghan vice president Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has backed Dr Abdullah, will be promoted to Marshal.
Gen Dostum is an Uzbek warlord accused of human rights abuses, although he denies the allegations.
Tensions increased after the results of the presidential elections, which were announced in February, five months after the polls.
Only 1.8 million of the 9.6 million registered voters cast their vote because of security concerns and distrust.
Mr Ghani was announced winner with 50.64 per cent of the vote, while Dr Abdullah gained 39.5 per cent of vote, a result he dismissed at the time and proclaimed fraudulent.
“We consider the final results baseless, illegal, and we do not accept it,” he said as protests broke out across the country.
An unwillingness to go back to the national unity government in place between 2014 and 2020 after a similar dispute resulted in the two holding separate presidential inauguration ceremonies followed by months of uncertainty.
In response, the US cut $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) of its aid to the central Asian country – almost one fifth of Afghanistan’s annual national budget.
“This is the second time in a row that a presidential election has proved destabilising,” Ali Adili, a researcher with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told The National.
“Afghanistan’s electoral institutions and voting system have again been found lacking.
"Moreover, the strong ethno-regional polarisation instigated by the fragmented elites in order to win elections has only made the political dispute over the results more dangerous.”
Talks between the Taliban and the government, which were due to start on March 10, were delayed by the leadership disputes.
With increased violence, and the Taliban and the government accusing each other of not adhering to the deal, it was thought that the prospects of real peace had dwindled.
The Taliban and US signed a deal on 29 February, which would see US troops leave Afghanistan in return for less violence and an agreement not to host terrorist groups in the country.
There was a reduction in violence in the week before the signing, but fighting has picked up in recent weeks, casting doubt on the deal's future.
The Taliban has not agreed to a global ceasefire called by the UN to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, an attack on a Kabul maternity ward killed 24 people and injured dozens more, and an ISIS-claimed explosion at a funeral in the eastern Nangarhar province killed 70.
Mr Ghani announced the Afghan National Security Forces would take an “active defensive” position to fight militants in the country, including the Taliban, who denied both attacks.
Deadly attacks have increased throughout Afghanistan, with the Taliban claiming to have detonated a car bomb outside a military base in the eastern Afghan city of Gardez, killing five on Thursday.
“The tragic reality of this peace process is that days like Tuesday were always a possibility,” said Andrew Watkins, senior analyst on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group.
After Mr Ghani’s announcement to actively fight the Taliban again, and with the agreed release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners put on hold, it is not yet clear when negotiations will begin.
Updated: May 18, 2020 01:49 PM