Ghani-Abdullah Government Power Sharing Agreement: Emerging Challenges and the Way Forward

On 17 May, the incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah signed a power sharing agreement that ended a months long political impasse over government formation in the country. The political deadlock emerged when Abdullah, along with other presidential candidates, refused to accept the final electoral results announced by the Independent Election Commission on 18 February. Led by domestically-driven negotiations, the agreement puts forward a power sharing structure that reflects the political interests of Ghani, Abdullah and other wider segments of Afghan society. The power sharing agreement is being deemed as a welcome development, primarily because Afghanistan currently stands at a critical juncture. While the United States is intent on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the militancy landscape in the country has undergone an expansion. The state of human security is dismal, whereas, the coronavirus outbreak is rapidly spreading across the country. On the other hand, consistent malperformance of democratically-elected governments has demeaned people’s confidence in the state-level political system. This piece, therefore seeks to study the emerging challenges that the newly formed government faces as it acquires the reins of Afghanistan. It further suggests the reformatory measures that can be taken up by the Afghan government for revamping of the political structure of Afghanistan.

The political deadlock emerged when Abdullah, along with other presidential candidates, refused to accept the final electoral results announced by the Independent Election Commission on 18 February.

According to the power sharing agreement, a National Unity Government (NUG) will be formed comprising Ashraf Ghani as the President of Afghanistan, and Abdullah Abdullah as the Chief Executive Officer. The agreement affords both Ghani and Abdullah an equal share in ministries, independent directorates and provinces. Additionally, Abdullah Abdullah will be leading the National Reconciliation High Council and the Intra-Afghan Peace Process. The formation of a unity government is not a novel affair in Afghanistan, as a unity government between Ghani and Abdullah was formed in 2014 as well.

Over the years, the people of Afghanistan have developed a lack of confidence in governmental structures and have grown accustomed to self-governance at local-level. The 2004 Afghan constitution provides for a highly centralised government, extending numerous privileges to the office of the President. This has facilitated the potential of arbitrary use of authority and hindered the process of maintaining checks and balances across the executive, legislative and judicial bodies of the government. Moreover, the 2014 NUG, brokered by the then US Secretary of State John Kerry, did more damage than repair. It evidently failed at introducing the promised political and electoral reforms and delivering to the common Afghan citizen. During the NUG’s tenure, Taliban-led violence surged due to an expansion in its foothold and network across the country. Within three years of the NUG formation, in 2017 the Afghan Taliban claimed to control 10% of the total districts of Afghanistan, while contesting over another 48%. Along with heightened military campaign, the Taliban also sought to establish its governance mechanisms and structures. Also, poverty further increased with 55%  of Afghan citizens living below the poverty line. On the other hand, rampant corruption, internal political conflicts and violence became the characteristic elements of the government.

Over the years, the people of Afghanistan have developed a lack of confidence in governmental structures and have grown accustomed to self-governance at local-level.

With several structural and systemic loopholes ailing the Afghan political apparatus, the newly formed government faces a number of challenges, the emerging militancy landscape of the country being the most immediate challenge. The Taliban have risen stronger ever since the US invasion in 2001. As per 2019 estimates, Taliban currently control or influence around 12.3%  of Afghanistan’s total districts. They have emerged as an influential actor out of the peace talks by visibly steering the US into several tangible commitments. So far, the Taliban has displayed little will to trade off, in order to secure a peace deal with the US or the Afghan government. An escalation in Taliban-led violence has been observed along with intensification in clashes with the Afghan forces. A research suggests that Taliban-led attacks have risen by more than 70% between March 1 and April 15 in 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019.

Other militant groups operating in the country have also gathered strength, foremost among which are the Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-KP). With the core of AQIS currently operating from Afghanistan, there is an increasing probability of Al Qaeda’s resurgence. Most recently, Al Qaeda has lauded the US-Taliban peace deal as a ‘historic victory’ over the US. The IS-KP, on the other hand has conducted a number of terror activities in Afghanistan. The most prominent one is the recent shootings of a maternity ward in Kabul, in an effort to taint the US-Taliban peace deal.

As the newly formed government takes office, the Intra-Afghan Peace Process, which has already taken the toll of the country’s political instability, awaits them as a daunting challenge.

To respond to the challenges ahead, the Ghani-Abdullah partnership needs to deliver a governance mechanism that involves equal participation of the stake-holders representing the diverse strata of Afghanistan’s multi-ethnic and multi-factional social structure. A power-sharing approach that incorporates customary local-level governing entities like village leaders, village councils and religious arbiters can restore people’s confidence in the government. Research suggests that such a governance model can serve as an effective line of defence against insurgency-led violence and predatory state behaviour.

As the newly formed government takes office, the Intra-Afghan Peace Process, which has already taken the toll of the country’s political instability, awaits them as a daunting challenge.

A number of measures can be taken up by the Afghan government that can enable it to stand against the contemporary challenges. Electoral reforms are long over-due and remain central to the response to structural lapses. Conducting elections for district council and mayor seats, if materialised, shall enhance the electoral politics of Afghanistan, however, reforms on the wider spectrum need to be taken up. Establishing a healthy working relationship with the parliament is also pertinent. The establishment of oversight and mediation commission along with a joint technical team for monitoring compliance to the agreement shall be one step towards political stability. Enhancing capability building of the Afghan military and law enforcement agencies is also pertinent for dismantling militancy in the country. A minimalist approach to governance has compromised the autonomy of the country’s institutions. Advancing autonomy and independence to different state institutions is a pre-requisite for regaining the citizens’ trust in the government apparatus. While the adoption of a democratic political system, true in spirit and essence, is a far-fetched idea for a country that has been riddled with decades of internal strife, conflicts and war, an incremental tread towards a progressive political system is indispensable.

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She is a graduate of International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad.

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