Is the Afghan Deal Viable?
By Robin Wright
After the largest vote recount ever undertaken anywhere, the Afghan election is finally over. But a pivotal question still looms: Will the novel political compromise–with a unique division of power between a president and a “chief executive officer”–actually work? It’s dubious.
The two competitors signed a power-sharing agreement Sunday in Kabul, then embraced, albeit tepidly. The rivalry remains so intense that the country’s Independent Election Commission opted not to reveal the final election recount, which was paid for by the United States and conducted by the United Nations. It was too volatile–at least for now–and too vulnerable to further dispute.
So much for transparency in a new democracy.
The bigger danger ahead is that the deal will not resolve the political rivalry between the camps of the two candidates. Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank economist and Afghan finance minister, has been declared president. Former foreign minister Abdullah Abullah (or someone he designates) is the new CEO, which is vaguely defined as a kind of prime minister. And there’s the rub.
Afghanistan has an executive presidency. But the four-page agreement signed Sunday gives the CEO significant powers over the country’s cabinet as well as over a newly created council of ministers. And presidential powers have not been changed or redefined.
The outcome is supposed to be a coalition government. But Afghanistan’s new political pact is a bit like saying that the system will be both presidential and parliamentary–and that there are two effective heads of government. In a fragile society with a history of warlordism and ethnic violence, the new formula is still susceptible to implosion.
Secretary of State John Kerry journeyed twice to Kabul this summer to broker the deal. The White House said Sunday that the agreement “restores confidence in the way forward” and “marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability.”
Three questions remain:
First, is the pact a short-term solution that ends up contributing to long-term instability, especially as NATO winds down its military presence? Afghanistan might have been better served if its first peaceful and democratic transition of power had been a decisive hand-off from one executive to another. It’s hard to imagine a comparable power-sharing arrangement–at least one that worked well–between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, for example, or John Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
Second, what impact will the beleaguered election process have on Afghans, who defied death threats and violence to vote–twice. Widespread fraud was alleged in the April election among eight candidates and the June run-off between the top two. As the election saga dragged out, Afghanistan’s economy and security situation deteriorated. Will Afghans believe in the process enough to keep participating?
Third, the constitution does not include a prime minister so will have to be amended. Can Afghanistan’s volatile political environment endure a formal debate, which could trigger new tensions over the division of power? And what happens in the meantime?
“This whole agreement and process is out of Afghan law and unconstitutional,” said Mohammad Ali Elizadah, a member of parliament. “I don’t think we will have an efficient and effective government.”