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Big deal in Kabul

Power-sharing pact allows for a democratic transition. But Afghanistan needs more than just that.

By: Express News Service |
September 24, 2014 12:16:53 am

In another country, the power-sharing deal between rival presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, after a two-month audit of the disputed June run-off results, without even a declaration of the complete vote tally, might have seemed anti-climactic. In Afghanistan, however, as the US has claimed, Sunday’s announcement of a national unity government is an important milestone. As per the agreement, there will be a cabinet chaired by the president, Ghani, and it will include a CEO nominated by Abdullah. While day-to-day administration will be carried out by the CEO and the council of ministers, the president will take all strategic decisions, with the CEO answering to him. The two sides will have equal representation at the top, with Abdullah making senior appointments on “parity” with Ghani, but down the ladder, appointments will be “equitably” distributed.

In a patronage-ridden country, continuing disagreements over appointments are just a hint of the long-term instability an arrangement like this could face. More importantly, the new president and CEO don’t have the luxury of a learning curve. The Taliban have had a very successful run, inflicting heavy casualties and causing a desertion epidemic in the Afghan security forces. Meanwhile, the bottom has fallen out of the Afghan economy, with the electoral impasse driving away investment amid rising unemployment, plummeting tax revenues and Kabul’s need of emergency financial aid to meet its payroll commitments. Afghanistan has other critical problems to address too. President-elect Ghani’s promise of equal rights for women and prominent roles for them in his government has struck the right chord, but it needs to be followed by action.

That both Ghani and Abdullah had agreed beforehand to sign the bilateral security pact with the US bodes well for Afghanistan and the region. This agreement will allow US President Barack Obama to execute his plan of leaving behind 9,800 troops when Nato forces withdraw at year-end. Outgoing President Hamid Karzai’s increasingly confrontational relationship with Washington had led to his refusal to sign the treaty. Having invested in Kabul economically and politically, India must demonstrate its strategic commitment to Afghanistan’s stability, knowing that Pakistan’s attempts to destabilise the country, in search of its own “strategic depth”, will not cease.

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