Afghanistan’s bitter rivals sign power-sharing deal

Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai shake hands after signing the agreement. Picture: Reuters
Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai shake hands after signing the agreement. Picture: Reuters
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AFGHANISTAN’S two presidential candidates have signed a power-sharing deal that makes one president and the other chief executive, ending months of political wrangling following a disputed run-off that threatened to plunge the country into turmoil and complicate the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Ending an election season that began with a first-round vote in April, the election commission named Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner and next president. But it pointedly did not release final vote totals, amid suggestions that doing so could inflame tensions.

Mr Ghani and new chief executive Abdullah Abdullah signed the national unity government deal as president Hamid Karzai – in power since the 2001 invasion ousted the Taleban – looked on.

It took weeks of negotiations to reach a power-sharing deal, after accusations of fraud in June’s run-off vote.

The candidates signed the deal at the presidential palace yesterday, then exchanged a hug and a handshake.

“I am very happy today that both of my brothers, Dr Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, in an Afghan agreement for the benefit of this country, for the progress and development of this country, that they agreed on the structure affirming the new government of Afghanistan,” Mr Karzai said.

The deal is a victory for US secretary of state John Kerry, who first got the candidates to agree in principle to share power during a July visit to Afghanistan. Mr Kerry returned to Kabul in August and has spent hours with the candidates, including in repeated phone calls, in an effort to seal the deal.

A White House statement lauded the two leaders, saying the agreement helped bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis.

“This agreement marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability in Afghanistan. We continue to call on all Afghans – including political, religious and civil society leaders – to support this agreement and to come together in calling for co-operation and calm,” the White House said.

Jan Kubis, the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, said the uncertainty of the past months had taken a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s security, economy and governance. Nato said it hoped both leaders could move forward “in the spirit of genuine political partnership.”

The decision not to release vote totals underscores the fear of potential violence. One of Mr Abdullah’s final demands was that the election commission not release the vote count because of the fraud he alleges took place.

Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, chairman of the election commission, said the final ballot counts had been shared with both candidates and that the commission would announce the numbers publicly later.

A Ghani supporter said Mr Kubis had told the commission not to release vote tallies. However, a UN official insisted the allegation was not true and that the UN was only facilitating dialogue between the candidates and the election commission regarding the release of the results.

A senior US official said the vote result was transparent but may be released slowly over fears of violence.

Mr Ghani supporters – and election commission reports circulating on social media – said the final vote gave him roughly 55 per cent and Mr Abdullah 45 per cent.

The four-page power sharing contract says the relationship between president and chief executive – a position akin to prime minister – must be defined by “partnership, collegiality, collaboration and, most importantly, responsibility to the people of Afghanistan”.

The deal specifies that the president leads the cabinet but that the chief executive manages the cabinet’s implementation of government policies. The chief executive will also chair regular meetings of a council of ministers.