Afghanistan’s Power-Sharing Agreement Will Face the Taliban Test

Last month, Afghanistan’s top two political rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah reached a political settlement to share power after months of bickering.

Roots of the Conflict

The tussle between the two began after the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan declared Ghani as the winner in 2019 Presidential elections. Abdullah rejected the results outright alleging voter fraud and blaming election officials of colluding with President Ghani.

The squabbling continued for months before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the two leaders to reach a political settlement or risk losing billions in aid to the country.

That too however, did not bring the leaders on the table.

Karzai Weighs In

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai led the mediation efforts and after two weeks of arguing, the two leaders finally agreed to share power. Under the agreement, Ghani will continue to serve as the country’s President and Abdullah will head the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) – the peace portfolio.

Although, the remaining details regarding who gets to nominate the cabinet are still unclear, there has been some advance towards forming a government. The agreement’s vagueness still leaves one very important question unanswered: who has the final word in important decisions?

Abdullah, who chairs the HCNR, will oversee the peace process, which primarily includes coordinating between the war-torn country’s internal and external stakeholders including its neighbors like Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan.

Abdullah will also manage the release of Taliban prisoners from government jails and bring the insurgent group to a table to chalk out the path forward once US troops withdraw from the country. He will also be in charge for overseeing Taliban’s gradual inculcation in to the mainstream politics of the country.

Peace Talks Are Still in Question

His toughest task however is to kick start inter-Afghan peace talks.

The talks will only begin if both sides: the Taliban and the Afghan government hold their end of deal made in Doha. Taliban must show their commitment to reduce violence, and Afghan government needs to release at least 5,000 for the talks to begin.

However, the lack of decisive leadership stands to be a major obstacle in the entire process if Taliban fail to reduce violence and disputes and Afghan government refuses to release some prisoners.

As on one hand, Abdullah drives the peace process, Ghani deals with the country’s internal security. The peace agreement was signed after came after a year of conflict in Afghanistan. The United States estimates around 10,000 Afghanis were killed in 2019.

Then there are insurgent groups like the Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State who pose a different albeit constant threat to peace in the country.

With Abdullah dealing with the Taliban, the rise in bombings and violence from the Taliban destabilizing the country’s internal security has overarching implication for both leaders.

The Taliban is Far From Beaten

Last month, after Ghani directed Afghan security forces to resume offensive against insurgents, the Taliban destroyed an army compound in Gardez city of Patkia province. The Taliban spokesperson, while claiming the responsibility said the attack was in response to Ghani’s order to the Afghan security forces.

This came just days after the Taliban killed more than 50 people including newborn babies in a horrific attack on a hospital. The attack showed how the insurgents refuse to give up violence despite securing guarantees from the United States and the Taliban.

The carrot and stick approach used by Ghani and Abdullah to contain Taliban does not seem to be working. Things are bound get worse once the Taliban enters mainstream politics.

The situation and infighting among Afghanistan’s political parties seems to be favoring the Taliban most at the moment. If Afghanistan democratic leadership fails to reach a consensus on political issues, the infighting will only cede more space for the Taliban to expand its clout.