Afghan Unity Govt In Trouble Ahead of Sep 30 Expiration Date
NEW DELHI: The Afghan National Unity Council is facing threat and political struggle from every side. The security and economic challenges facing the country are also growing enormous. Both the United Nations and United States Intelligence have speculated that the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan is going to have spillover effects.
The two year power sharing deal brokered by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in 2014, is set to expire on September 30 this year. In spite of two years passing by, nothing concrete and meaningful has been implemented. Both electoral and political reforms are suffering.
Specifically, the reforms required to amend the constitution to transform the CEO’s office into the office of the prime minister, by convening a constitutional Loya Jirga (grand assembly of the tribal elders, remains pending. Neither Prime Minister Ashraf Ghani nor Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have honoured their parts of the commitment. Hence, the government of Afghanistan is not able to garner gravity and political legitimacy. Multiple constituencies, in the coming days, are going to put more pressure on the government. It is unclear what the political future of the National Unity Government will be post September 30. If the constitutional amendments are not implemented in time -- which is the likely scenario -- it could create a split between the two leaders, as the relationship they share is already very fragile.
The fact that the two leaders do not get along is an open secret. Tensions were apparent from the time of the elections, with Abdullah contending that Ghani had won through unfair means. The long and bitter stalemate that followed was finally resolved by the National Unity Government brokered by Kerry, but once again, things seem like they may lapse into uncertainty. In fact, cracks became all the more apparent last month, when Abdullah publicly criticised Ghani for not meeting with him for the last three months and declared Ghani unfit to run the country.
Ahead of the September 30 deadline, Abdullah and his supporters are demanding political concessions, financial incentives, and a greater share in key ministries in exchange for continuing support and cooperation.
Further, in addition to problems between Abdullah and Ghani, for the first time since 2001, there are other forces, apart from the audacious Taliban that is trying to topple the government, threatening the political status quo. Three political alliances of different groups have sprung up, and they are all contending the National Unity Government. The first is that of former President Hamid Karzai, who -- having handed over to Ghani in 2014 -- is still politically active. Karzai has been vocally critical of Ghani in recent years, specifically over Ghani’s pivot to Pakistan. Karzai maintained that the move would backfire, and given the recent breakdown of relations between Kabul and Islamabad, Karzai was proven right.
The second group consists of Abdullah’s supporters and includes the powerful warlords and key figures of the northern alliance group. The fact that this group has little faith in the government of Afghanistan is evinced by the fact that it has raised its own militias to fight the Taliban, as opposed to relying on the security apparatus of the state.
The third group -- the Afghanistan Protection and Security Council -- is led by former Pashtun warlord Abdul Rasool Sayyaf.
Further, in a recent development, the government showed its fragility by signing a controversial peace deal with a former warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-i-Islami group, was once referred to as "the butcher of Kabul" and remains a wanted terrorist in the United States, and the government’s deal with Hekmatyar is indicative of its increasing desperation.
Added to the mix is the continuing onslaught of the Taliban, with civilian deaths reaching yet another record high this year.
The current crisis being suffered by Afghanistan is a result of dirty power politics played by political elites as well as international actors. Now, the situation has worsened so much so that Afghanistan needs joint action by the international community. This is imperative now, to ensure that the current government can see out its five year term, for which, a new agreement will be almost entirely necessary.
Therefore, once again, the political reforms needed by Afghanistan again depend on the political will and realpolitik of elites and international actors.
The three main pillars for the 2014 agreement needed the political will of President Ashraf Ghani, political skill of Abdullah Abdullah and of course, the commitment of Washington. Sadly, all these pillars have shattered.
Instead of implementing the agreement, Ghani was far more interested in creating his own Ghilzai Pashtun administration where his political position could be consolidated.
Abdullah on the other hand had to face enormous pressure from United States and at the same time, from his own political constituencies so that he could assert his own position.
Washington, as usual, was not really interested in implementing the agreement -- nor did it know how to, as it always the case after interfering in the domestic politics of another country. Thus, a lot of policy paralysis took place.
However, in spite of whatever Afghanistan is going through, the 2014 agreement is the best solution to uplift it from its morass. Though, political trust and public support has diminished over the years for the agreement, it is the main solution. Therefore, it is in Afghanistan’s best interest that the agreement sees it through September 30, and if not, a new agreement is arrived at that retains the National Unity Government as opposed to plunging the country into another round of electoral and political chaos.
The two interlinked crises that were focused on in the 2014 agreement were the disputed presidential system and flawed election system to choose the president.
Since, the political reforms both socially and economically could not be harmonized by the government; there are two major challenges that stand in front. Firstly, either the government would collapse or a very deepening political crisis would foment in the coming months.
The reason why a breakdown of the current agreement could lead to socio-economic paralysis in Afghanistan is because the country will have a hard time preparing for another presidential election. The last election dragged on for months, with each side accusing the other of fraud. Violence and instability prevailed, as the Taliban took complete advantage of the chaos.
Therefore, it needs to be understood that the political leadership in Afghanistan does not have the capital, power and leverage to face another similar political crisis.