Over the weekend, the two main rivals in the recent Afghan presidential elections finally agreed to put aside their differences and signed an agreement to implement a unity government along the lines of the one that had been suggested by John Kerry about a month ago, one that figures to hang together for at least a few hours after it officially takes power. Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who seems to have won the election (the fact that turnout for the runoff was up 1.5 million voters from the first round does seem kind of inexplicable, but auditors claim that even accounting for the “large-scale fraud on both sides,” Ghani won), was in fact declared the winner and will assume the office…well, someday. Seriously, nobody actually seems to have picked a date for his inauguration.
Ghani’s rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, agreed to stop contesting an audit of the runoff in exchange for being installed as prime minister, an office that has been defunct in Afghanistan since shortly after the Taliban were overthrown. Except he won’t be called “Prime Minister,” but instead he’ll be the “Chief Executive Officer” of Afghanistan, because that doesn’t sound completely ridiculous and because Afghanistan is now a publicly-held corporation, I guess?
The thing is, while the CEO is supposed to manage the day to day affairs of the new government, nobody can seem to agree where his authority should end and the President’s should begin, which ought to make for a fun first few months on the job for everybody. The President in the Afghan constitution has a considerable amount of power (again, they haven’t even had a “prime minister” since Hamid Karzai came to power as head of the transitional government at the end of 2001), but Abdullah clearly didn’t agree to this power-sharing deal under the assumption that Ghani would have all the power. On a purely personal level, Ghani and Abdullah, aside from having just bitterly contested a presidential election and recount, reportedly can’t stand each other from back when they were both in Karzai’s cabinet, and wouldn’t even show up for their own joint press conference on Sunday after they’d signed the unity agreement. So things are already off to a great start.
There’s a lot at stake for Afghanistan in seeing that these two manage to make the new government work. First and foremost is fighting the Taliban, though both of them seem to be largely in agreement as to how to go about that (both, for example, pledged during the campaign to sign an agreement to keep US and coalition forces in the country beyond the end of the year). Afghanistan’s economy is perpetually lousy and will have to be improved somehow in order to bring the country together and to counter the Taliban’s ideological appeal. Related to that is the possibility that international aid could be cut if it looks like the road to Stable Afghan Democracy is about to take a detour through Broken Government and/or Civil War. Best thing for everybody is that Ghani and Abdullah make some sacrifices and put aside their personal differences. But we’ll see about that.