Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Elections 2014 (51): Finally, a deal, but not yet democracy

Kate Clark 17 min

After more than three months of audits and behind-the-scenes negotiation, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah signed a deal today to set up a government of national unity. The election ‘result’ was announced a couple of hours later, but the Independent Election Commission (IEC) declined to give any figures. It had been clear, all along, that the two men were negotiating on the basis of Ghani having won the presidency, with Abdullah demanding to be significantly included in the next administration. Abdullah has won significant powers in the deal, including “parity” in senior security and economic appointments and the new position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with the powers of an ‘executive prime minister,’ who among other authorities will chair weekly sessions of a “Council of Ministers,” also to be newly set up. AAN’s Kate Clark takes a first look at the deal (with input from Obaid Ali, Qayyum Suroush, Thomas Ruttig and Martine van Bijlert).

September 2014. No smiles, no comments, only a perfunctory hug: new president Ashraf Ghani and quasi-prime minister Abdullah Abdullah (the job was not clear at the time) sign the NUG deal. Photo c/o Pajhwok Afghan News.

At a high table and under a painting of the destroyed old royal palace in Kabul, the two men who had faced each other off in the presidential run off on 14 June, sat – symmetrically, symbolically equal in height, and divided by an Afghan flag – to sign a political agreement (text below) which will set up a ‘government of national unity’. Some of Afghanistan’s leaders (1) had gathered at the presidential palace to watch them, but internationals appeared not to be present, despite the United States, in particular, having been ‘mid-wife’ to this deal. Five minutes later, with no smiles, no comments and what looked to be a perfunctory hug between the two men, with just a short speech from Karzai and a prayer from Advisor Minister Niamatullah Shahrani, it was all over. The Palace told AAN publication of the text would be up to the two candidates and/or the US.

The deal was announced before the results – apparently at Abdullah’s insistence (as late as 18 September, his spokesman had warned of violence if the results were released and showing a big gap between the two contenders). Equally symbolically, at the IEC, was chairman Yusif Nuristani’s lack of figures in his announcement (apart from the usual ones indicating the number of ballot boxes invalidated and recounted) (2):

… we announce Ashraf Ghani as president. We have given the full results of the audit to both candidates and we will share it to the public at the next opportunity.

The Afghan electorate was not told the number or percentage of votes each had got, or the size of the fraud found to have been committed by each team. Voters have also yet to be given the text of the political deal, despite it making sweeping changes as to how their country will be governed. AAN was passed on the final English version of the text on Sunday morning (which matches the copy sent by the US Embassy to journalists – see in the annex). We were told by a senior member of the Ghani camp that the English version is the original.

The nature of the deal

Ghani’s powers, as president, flow from the current constitution, which is presumably why the deal speaks largely about the CEO’s rights: Abdullah had to make sure he got his demands in writing. Nevertheless, it appears Abdullah got most of what he wanted (see earlier analysis of what both camps thought a government of national unity would entail (here and here).There are to be four new positions – a CEO “with the functions of an executive prime minister,” two deputies (presumably his vice presidential candidates, Muhammad Mohaqeq and Muhammad Khan) and a ‘leader of the opposition’ (a position which Ghani had already spoken about setting up and which, in the text, says will be spelled out later) There is also to be a newly created “council of ministers” to be chaired by the CEO, as part of his wider role of “running” the government.

On appointments, there are apparent contradictions. The CEO’s duties include “providing advice and proposals” to the president on appointing and dismissing “senior government officials.” This sounds like the president has the last word. The document also states that the CEO is “under the authority of the President.” Apart from that one sentence, both the future president and CEO seem to be rather equal in their powers.

There appears, for example, a 50:50 ‘power sharing’ deal on some of the major posts. The agreement commits the two men to “parity in the selection of personnel between the President and the CEO at the level of head of key security and economic institutions and independent directorates”. (AAN thought this could cover the ministries of defence, interior and finance, NDS, the Independent Directorate of Local Government, but there are many others, including the Commissions overseeing the Constitution and on Anti-Corruption). As to the National Security Council, the two teams will “be equally represented… at the leadership level” (two directors, rotating, or director and deputy?) and “equitably [ie fairly and impartially, not necessarily 50:50] represented at the membership level.”

The deal says appointments are to be merit-based, with the president and CEO agreeing on a “specific merit-based mechanism for the appointment of senior officials” (technically, this already exists as the civil service commission) which “will provide for the full participation of the CEO in proposing nominees for all applicable positions and for full consideration of all nominations.” There will also be “broad participation of meritorious personalities” in the administration, “equitable representation from both parties, and with attention to inclusivity and the political and societal composition of the country, with particular attention to women and youth, and persons with disabilities, for state institutions and agencies, including key judiciary and local administrative posts.” It looks like this will be a very full government.

The agreement also promises a new split in structures at the highest level of government, with the cabinet comprising of the president, his chief advisor and vice presidents, the CEO and his deputies and the ministers, meeting “at [the president’s] discretion on government policy, strategy, budgeting, resource allocation, and legislation among its other functions and authorities.” The CEO will “be responsible for managing the Cabinet’s implementation of government policies, and will report on progress to the President directly and in the Cabinet” and “to that end” will chair weekly sessions of the Council of Ministers, comprising the CEO and his deputies and the ministers. This intention appears to be that the president and cabinet will make policy which the CEO and council of ministers will then implement (with a lot of overlap of personnel between the two bodies).

In terms of separation of powers and having a functioning political opposition, one of the noticeable things about this agreement is that it appears to ignore any role for parliament (not mentioning it once) in approving appointments or being the body where the legal opposition to the executive could lie.

What did Ghani get out of the deal?

Spokesman for the Ghani team, Faizullah Zaki, told AAN that, of course, the team was happy with the agreement and it was “a historical decision.” Afghanistan, he said, had “suffered a lot from a lack of national unity. It’s an inclusive government. It will bring Afghanistan to a new era. Dr Ghani always expressed his intention for a government of national unity.” It is true that Ghani already had plans to delegate some of the president’s powers – given to him under the constitution, as he told AAN in May 2014:

There are 20 powers that the constitution assigns to the presidency, these are beyond the performance of one individual whatever his capabilities. I will chair all these committees, but the procedures will be of strong dialogue, consensus building and then compliance.

The current deal does delegate, but in ways that also might constrain the president’s powers and authority, particularly as the CEO also appears to have some form of economic powers, in for example implementing, monitoring, and supporting the policies, programs, and budgetary and financial affairs of the government.

Ghani had already agreed to a constitutional loya jirga, AAN understands in response to General Dostum and Jombesh’s desire for administrative decentralisation to be on the agenda. That jirga will now be brought forward from the fourth to the second year of the new presidency, with district council elections to be held as “early as possible” (district council chairs are one of the groups specified as needing to attend a fully constitutional loya jirga). The aim of the loya jirga, according to the text of the agreement, will be to consider turning the CEO into a prime minister.

How did the election go?

IEC Chair Nuristani’s evaluation of the election was ultimately downbeat:

In the history, our people have fought for an Islamic and democratic system. And the people, who turned out in their millions and despite the threats posed, showed they wanted a peaceful political transition and gave a teeth-smashing response to the armed opposition groups. But unfortunately we faced problems regarding the conduct of free and fair elections.

He then listed some of the shortcomings in the country’s electoral framework, which should have been sorted out long ago; it seemed a bit late to bring them up now.

We don’t have electronic ID cards, there was no voter list, we don’t know the exact number of voters in a district or for polling centres. Different sides committed fraud and there was insecurity.

Nuristani again admitted there had been fraud on both sides, though without qualifying the numbers and avoiding blaming either side more than the other; he said the audit had been both credible and had not caught all the fraud:

In the second round, fraud created a new problem and even though, thanks to ISAF who transported the boxes to the IEC HQ, we tried to clean the votes and audited 100 per cent of the votes – which was credible and unprecedented – the audit could not discover and separate out all the fraud. After the full audit we got these numbers (11,945 valid polling stations, 1,260 invalid polling stations, 9,677 recounted.) As a result of the audit, hundreds of thousands of votes from both sides were invalidated. As a result, we announce Ashraf Ghani as president.

Both sides had agreed to abide by the audited results when Kerry first visited on 12 July, although later Abdullah withdrew from the audit saying it was not thorough enough, a charge which the UN responded to, in detail. It pushed on with the audit, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon giving the UN’s final verdict: “robust, comprehensive and consistent with international best practices.”

Now, however, the audited results have been skated over. We do not know the results, or the scale of the fraud found in the audit (although, it was “hundreds of thousands” according to the IEC chairman, not the “as many as two million,” Abdullah has consistently claimed). As a result, we do not know if a government of national unity was merited by what happened at the polls. Curiously, US Secretary of State John Kerry, in whose presence the “national unity government” came to be promised (during his first visit), has now spoken of the importance of the deal to help “bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis, and restore confidence in the way forward.” He speaks about “the announcement of the election outcome” (not results) and only mentions democracy as a future aspiration for the country:

Respect for the democratic process is the only viable path for Afghanistan to continue its progress toward a secure and stable future, and ensure the continued support of the United States and the international community.

A UNAMA statement similarly describes the announcement of the presidential election outcome as “tak[ing] the country an essential step nearer to its first ever democratic transition of authority.” This political transition however cannot be called democratic, as it actually avoided democratic means to determine who won the election. It has just about been peaceful, although with ethnic polarisation in the voting and a lot of vitriol and upset on both sides in the aftermath. Despite the huge numbers of voters turning out, in the end, the deal to form a successor administration to Karzai’s was done behind closed doors and with huge amounts of foreign help. The 2014 election has not cemented the idea of cycles of power, with polls producing winners and losers who can make it back to government or lose power in the future.

Will the deal work?

The success of the new administration relies on two main figures in the future government to make a clear break with some governmental practices of the past 13 years, and to move beyond the familiar pro-reform rhetoric (which again, appears in the preamble to the deal):

Dedicated to political consensus, commitment to reforms, and cooperative decision-making, the national unity government will fulfil the aspirations of the Afghan public for peace, stability, security, rule of law, justice, economic growth, and delivery of services, with particular attention to women, youth, ulema, and vulnerable persons.

The guff is familiar from every agreement signed since 2001, but the reality is the two bitter rivals and their teams urgently need to make this government work, given the many problems Afghanistan faces. The deal puts more work on the new administration’s shoulders than either of the men would have wished for when they originally stood for office almost a year ago. Along with tackling the declining economy, insurgency, systemic administrative corruption and strained international relations – all crucial if the government is to survive – the president and his CEO will have to think fast and urgently about reforming the election system (in time for next year’s parliamentary elections, the deal promises), organising district council elections and setting up the constitutional loya jirga. At best, they will now work as partners with a common goal. At worst, all those tasks will re-open or keep open old divides and rivalries.

Appointments will be key to everything, both in terms of how power is split and wielded and what sort of government Afghanistan is to get. The deal keeps repeating that appointments will be on merit, but that is something that has proved very difficult up until now. In Afghanistan, positions are often considered as ‘spoils’ and a means of rewarding supporters; patronage underpins power and authority. What has enabled the government so far to nevertheless survive has been the large inflows of foreign capital and foreign military support, but both are already tailing off. A united government will already have difficulty coping with all the problems Afghanistan faces. A weak and contested administration could well find those problems overwhelming.


(1) They included President Karzai and his vice presidents the speakers of both houses, both candidates with their vice presidents, some cabinet ministers, Sebghatollah Mojaddedi, Sayed Pir Gailani, Gul Rahman Qazi (head of the commission for overseeing the implementation of the constitution), Ahmad Zia Massud, Daud Sultanzoi, Wahidullah Sabawun and Qeyamudin Kashaf (the head of the National Ulema Council).

(2) 11,945 valid polling stations; 1,260 invalid polling stations; 9,677 polling stations recounted (and possibly partially invalidated)


Annex: Text of the deal

(as emailed to journalists by the US Embassy). Articles of the constitution cited are given after the text.

Agreement between the Two Campaign Teams Regarding the Structure of the National Unity Government

This period in Afghanistan’s history requires a legitimate and functioning government committed to implementing a comprehensive program of reform to empower the Afghan public, thereby making the values of the Constitution a daily reality for the people of Afghanistan. Stability of the country is strengthened by a genuine political partnership between the President and the CEO, under the authority of the President. Dedicated to political consensus, commitment to reforms, and cooperative decision-making, the national unity government will fulfill the aspirations of the Afghan public for peace, stability, security, rule of law, justice, economic growth, and delivery of services, with particular attention to women, youth, Ulema, and vulnerable persons. Further, this agreement is based on the need for genuine and meaningful partnership and effective cooperation in the affairs of government, including design and implementation of reforms.

The relationship between the President and the CEO cannot be described solely and entirely by this agreement, but must be defined by the commitment of both sides to partnership, collegiality, collaboration, and, most importantly, responsibility to the people of Afghanistan. The President and CEO are honor bound to work together in that spirit of partnership.

A. Convening of a Loya Jirga to amend the Constitution and considering the proposal to create the post of executive prime minister

• On the basis of Article 2 of the Joint Statement of 17 Asad 1393 (August 8, 2014) and its attachment (“…convening of a Loya Jirga in two years to consider the post of an executive prime minister”), the President is committed to convoking a Loya Jirga for the purpose of debate on amending the Constitution and creating a post of executive prime minister.

• After the inauguration ceremony, the President will appoint in consultation with the CEO by executive order a commission to draft an amendment to the Constitution.

• On the basis of Article 140 of the Constitution, the national unity government is committed to holding district council elections as early as possible on the basis of a law in order to create a quorum for the Loya Jirga in accordance with Section 2 of Article 110 of the Constitution.

• The national unity government is committed to ratifying and enforcing a law on the organization of the basic organs of the state and determination of the boundaries and limits of local administration by legal means.

• The national unity government commits to completing the distribution of electronic/computerized identity cards to all the citizens of the country as quickly as possible.

• The above issues and other matters that are agreed to will be implemented on a schedule which is appended to this agreement.

B. The position of the Chief Executive Officer

• Until such time as the Constitution is amended and the position of executive prime minister is created, the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will be created by presidential decree on the basis of Article 50 of the Constitution and Article 2 of the attached Joint Declaration and its annex. The CEO and his deputies will be introduced in the presidential inauguration ceremony.

• The appointment of the CEO with the functions of an executive prime minister will take place through a proposal by the runner-up and the agreement of the President. The CEO will be answerable to the President.

• A special protocol for the CEO will be authorized in a presidential decree.

• The President will delegate by a presidential decree specific executive authorities to the CEO with a view to Articles 60, 64, 71, and 77 of the Constitution. Key elements of authorities will include the following:

1. Participation of the CEO with the President in bilateral decision-making meetings.

2. Carrying out administrative affairs and executive affairs of the government as determined by presidential decree.

3. Implementing the reform program of the National Unity Government.

4. Proposing reforms in all government agencies and decisively combatting official corruption.

5. Exercising specific administrative and financial authorities, which will be determined in a presidential decree.

6. Establishing working relationships of the executive branch of the government with the legislative and judicial branches within the framework of defined functions and authorities.

7. Implementing, monitoring, and supporting the policies, programs, and budgetary and financial affairs of the government.

8. Submitting necessary reports and proposals to the President.

9. The President, as the head of state and government, leads the Cabinet (Kabina), which meets at his discretion on government policy, strategy, budgeting, resource allocation, and legislation among its other functions and authorities. The Cabinet consists of the President, Vice-Presidents, CEO, Deputy CEOs, the Chief Advisor, and ministers. The CEO will be responsible for managing the Cabinet’s implementation of government policies, and will report on progress to the President directly and in the Cabinet. To that end, the CEO will chair regular weekly meetings of the Council of Ministers (Shura-e-Waziran), consisting of the CEO, Deputy CEOs, and all ministers. The Council of Ministers will implement the executive affairs of the government. The CEO will also chair all the sub-committees of the Council of Ministers. Based on this article of the agreement, a presidential decree will introduce and define the new Council of Ministers as distinct from the Cabinet.

10. Providing advice and proposals to the President for appointment and dismissal of senior government officials and other government affairs.

11. Special representation of the President at the international level as deemed necessary by the President.

12. The CEO is a member of the National Security Council.

13. The CEO will have two deputies, who will be members of meetings of the cabinet and meetings of the National Security Council. The functions, authorities, and responsibilities of the CEO’s deputies, in line with the CEO’s functions and authorities, as well as an appropriate protocol for them, will be proposed by the CEO and approved by the President through presidential decree.

C. Appointment of senior officials

On the basis of the principles of national participation, fair representation, merit, honesty, and commitment to the reform programs of the national unity government, the parties are committed to the following:

• Parity in the selection of personnel between the President and the CEO at the level of head of key security and economic institutions, and independent directorates. As a consequence of this parity, and the provisions of Sections B(12) and (13) above, the two teams will be equally represented in the National Security Council at the leadership level, and equitably (barabarguna) represented at the membership level.

• The President and the CEO will agree upon a specific merit-based mechanism for the appointment of senior officials. The mechanism will provide for the full participation of the CEO in proposing nominees for all applicable positions and for full consideration of all nominations. In conformity with the intent of the Joint Declaration and its annex (Article 5), the President and the CEO will consult intensively on the selection of senior appointees not covered by the Civil Service Commission through the above mechanism, which can lead to equitable (Barabarguna) representation from both parties, and with attention to inclusivity and the political and societal composition of the country, with particular attention to women and youth, and persons with disabilities, for state institutions and agencies, including key judiciary and local administrative posts. The two parties are committed to early reform of the Civil Service Commission.

• Enabling broad participation of meritorious personalities and personnel of the country at various levels of the system, using these opportunities for securing enduring peace and stability and building a healthy administration.

D. Creation of the position of leader of the runner-up team

In line with the Joint Declaration of 17 Asad 1393 (August 8, 2014) and its annex, and with the goal of strengthening and expanding democracy, the position of the leader of the runner-up team, referred to in the mentioned document as the opposition leader, will be created and officially recognized within the framework of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the basis of a presidential decree. The responsibilities, authorities, and honors of this position will be spelled out in the decree. After the formation of the national unity government with the presence of the runner-up team on the basis of this agreement, this position will act as an ally of the national unity government.

E. Electoral reform

To ensure that future elections are fully credible, the electoral system (laws and institutions) requires fundamental changes. Immediately after the establishment of the government of national unity, the President will issue a decree to form a special commission for the reform of the electoral system in accordance with Article 7 of the Political Framework. Members of the special commission will be agreed between the President and the CEO. The special commission will report to the CEO on its progress and the Cabinet will review its recommendations and take the necessary steps for their implementation. The objective is to implement electoral reform before the 2015 parliamentary elections.

F. Implementation

Any divergence in views or dispute regarding the interpretation or application of this agreement shall be resolved through consultation between the parties.

The parties express appreciation for the role played by the international community in facilitating the political and technical agreements, and welcome the assurances the parties have received of its support for the implementation of this agreement and its engagement with the government of national unity.

G. Entry-into-force

Honoring their commitments to the Technical and Political Frameworks of July 12, 2014, and the Joint Declaration of August 8, 2014, as reflected throughout this agreement, the parties reaffirm their commitment regarding the outcome of the election and implementation of this agreement to establish the national unity government, which will enter into force upon signing by the two candidates in the presence of Afghan and international witnesses.


Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai               Dr. Abdullah Abdullah

The foregoing signatures were witnessed by:

H.E. Jan Kubis, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations 

H.E. James B. Cunningham, Ambassador of the United States of America


The articles of the constitution mentioned in the agreement are as follows

Article Fifty
Ch. 2. Art. 29

The state is obliged to adopt necessary measures for creation of a strong and sound administration and realization of reforms in the administration system of the country after authorization by the National Assembly.

Government offices are bound to carry their work with full neutrality and incompliance with the provisions of law.

The citizens of Afghanistan have the right of access to the information from the government offices in accordance with the provisions of law.

This right has no limits, unless violation of the rights of the others.

The citizens of Afghanistan are employed for state services on the basis of qualification without any kind of discrimination and in accordance with law.

Article Sixty Ch. 3, Art. 1

The President is the head of state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and conducts his authorities in executive, legislative, and judiciary branches in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

The President shall have two Vice Presidents, one first and one second.

The candidate to the Presidency on his or her candidacy shall declare the name of the Vice Presidents to the nation.

The Vice President in the absence, resignation, and or death of the President, acts in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.

Article Sixty-Four
h. 3, Art. 5

The power and duties of the President are as follows:

1. Supervising the implementation of the Constitution.

2. Determining the fundamental policies of the state with the approval of the National Assembly.

3. Being the Command-in-Chief of the armed forces of Afghanistan.

4. Declaration of war and ceasefire with the approval of the National Assembly.

5. Taking the required decision during defending of territorial integrity and protecting of the independence.

6. Sending contingents of the armed forces to foreign countries with the approval of the National Assembly.

7. Convening Loya Jirga except in a situation stated in Article Sixty-eight f this Constitution.

8. Declaring the state of emergency and ending it with the approval of the National Assembly.

9. Inaugurating the National Assembly and the Loya Jirga.

10. Accepting resignation of the Vice President.

11. Appointing of Ministers, the Attorney General, the Director of the Central Bank, Head of the National Security Directorate and the President of the Afghan Red Crescent Society with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga, and acceptance of their dismissal and resignation.

12 Appointing the head and members of the Supreme Court with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga.

13. Appointment, retirement and acceptance of resignation and dismissal of judges, officers of the armed forces, police, national security, and high ranking officials in accordance with the law.

14. Appointment of heads of diplomatic missions of Afghanistan in foreign countries and international organizations.

15. Accepting the credentials of diplomatic missions in Afghanistan.

16. Signing of laws and legislative decrees.

17. Issuing credential letter for the conclusion of bi-lateral and international treaties in accordance with the provisions of law.

18. Reducing and pardoning penalties in accordance with law.

19. Issuing medals, and honorary titles in accordance with the provision of law.

20. The establishment of commissions for the improvement of the administrative condition of the country, in accordance with law.

21. Exercising other authorities in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Article Seventy one C. 4, Art. 1

The government consists of the ministers who work under the Chairmanship of the President.

Ministers are appointed by the President and shall be introduced for approval to the National Assembly.

Article One Hundred and ten 
h 6. Art. 1

Loya Jirga is the highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan.

Loya Jirga consists of the following:

1. Members of the National Assembly.

2. Chairpersons of the provincial, and district councils. The ministers, Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court, can participate in the sessions of the Loya Jirga without the right to vote.

Article One Hundred and forty 
C.8. Art. 5

In order to organize activities involving people and provide them with the opportunity to actively participate in the local administration, councils are set up in districts and villages in accordance with the provisions of the law.

Members of these councils are elected by the local people through, free, general, secret and direct elections for a period of three years.

The participation of nomads in these councils is regulated by law.

Article Seventy-seven 
Ch , Art. 7

As heads of administrative units and members of the government, the ministers perform their duties within the limits determined by this Constitution and other laws. The Ministers are responsible to the President and the Wolesi Jirga for their particular duties.

Article Seven 
Ch.1 Art. 7

The state shall abide by the UN charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The state prevents all types of terrorist activities, production and consumption of intoxicants (muskirat), production and smuggling of narcotics.


election Ghani government of national unity