Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

End of the Post-Election Impasse? Ghani and Abdullah’s new power-sharing formula

Ali Yawar Adili 25 min

The electoral and political standoff which had beset the country for months has been ended by a new power-sharing agreement signed on 17 May 2020 by President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah. Both had claimed the presidency and held rival inaugurations in March. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili (with input from Thomas Ruttig) reports on the signing ceremony and the details of the agreement which removes Abdullah’s title of Chief Executive but gives him control over appointing half the cabinet. He concludes that the impasse is broken, with the new institutions designed – in theory – to accommodate all major political forces in the country. However, undefined provisions regarding the structure of these institutions might prove contentious and lead to renewed conflict, while power politics and factional rivalry will likely continue to undermine governance and the peace process.

President Ashraf Ghani (r) and Abdullah exchange copies of their new political agreement which they signed in Kabul's presidential palace on 17 May 2020. Photo: Dr Abdullah’s Facebook page.

A perfunctory signing ceremony

It was a small and lacklustre ceremony in Kabul during which Dr Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah signed their second power-sharing agreement, simply called “Tawafoq-nama-ye Siasi” (Political Agreement), in the presidential palace on Sunday (17 May 2020). The agreement gives Abdullah leadership of the peace process and the right to appoint half the cabinet, but means he drops his titular role of Chief Executive. The small scale of the ceremony partly reflected coronavirus concerns. But the cold atmosphere, after months of tension between the two politicians, was tangible. The exchange of the signed copies between Ghani and Abdullah happened without a handshake or the firm hugging that took place when the two doctors signed the 2014 agreement to form the National Unity Government. This might also be related to coronavirus-protocols, but there was no smile on Abdullah’s side and barely one on Ghani’s, except when exchanging the signed copies of the document (see the video here).

Apart from the two signatories, the ceremony was attended by some political aides and seven political figures, including former president Hamed Karzai and former ‘jihadi leaders’ Abdulrabb Rasul Sayyaf, Yunus Qanuni and Muhammad Karim Khalili, who had led one of the various Afghan and foreign mediation efforts to resolve the disputed 2019 presidential election results (AAN report here). (1) Ghani was flanked by two of his key aides, national security advisor Hamdullah Moheb and the head of the government’s Taleban negotiation team, Masum Stanekzai. AAN was told by sources privy to the negotiations that it were Moheb and Stanekzai who had negotiated the details of the agreement with Abdullah on Ghani’s behalf.

The small gathering was just as striking for who was not in attendance. There was not one woman present, despite women leaders also having attempted a mediation effort (AAN report here). Also interesting was the absence of Ghani’s vice-presidents Amrullah Saleh and Sarwar Danesh, as well as Abdullah’s running-mates Enayatullah Babur Farahmand and Asadullah Sa’adati (AAN background here). 

In short remarks following the signing, Ghani said that the agreement showed Afghans “think of their national interests with prudence and collective wisdom,” and could “reasonably reach fundamental solutions” without mediation by international allies, a reference to the 2014 political agreement which was brokered by the then US Secretary of State John Kerry (AAN reporting here and here). Addressing Dr Abdullah, Ghani said that “we divided the burden and it will be lighter on our shoulders.” He thanked Abdullah for accepting the responsibility of leading the new High Council of National Reconciliation and said that he had “full confidence” in Abdullah’s ability to achieve peace. Ghani also said that the “ranks of the republic” – a term recently in use for those participating in the current political system, as opposed to the Taleban – were now united for the “sacred cause of peace.”

Abdullah in his remarks said that for the people of Afghanistan who were going through a difficult situation due to the continuation of war and coronavirus pandemic, the agreement was  “perhaps good news” and that they have waited for such a day.   

The content of the agreement

So far, only Abdullah has published the document. He posted a scanned copy of the signed agreement on his Facebook page on 18 May, also posted on the AAN website’s resources section), and an English translation of it is annexed to this report).

Here we summarise the agreement which is comprised of seven parts:

  1. Establishment of a High State Council (Shura-ye ‘Ali-ye Dawlat) 

This new council seems to be designed to accommodate various political and jihadi leaders. It will be comprised of “political leaders and national figures” to “build political consensus” and advise the president on “crucial national issues.” The document does not specify the size of the council or who serves on it, but it can be assumed that many, if not all, of the participants in the signing ceremony will be on the council, as they have played a role in bringing about the Ghani-Abdullah compromise. While these leaders have now accepted the outcome of this very election, they had pushed for such a council to oversee the government and ‘keep in check’ the president on certain national issues. This is designed to accommodate their feelings of having been marginalised by Ghani under the National Unity Government (NUG) and to having remained marginalised under the new administration, particularly as some of them had very vocally advocated for dropping the 2019 election in favour of peace negotiations with the Taleban and the establishment of an interim government, arguing that elections would add to the crisis. This gives some influence to the members of such a council which, in its now formalised form, is a new institution in Afghanistan’s post-2001 system and, strictly speaking, is as extra-constitutional as the post of a Chief Executive, filled by Abdullah since 2014.

  • Maqam-e Riasat-e Shura-ye ‘Ali-ye Mosaleha-ye Melli (Chairmanship of High Council for National Reconciliation) 

The agreement stipulates that Abdullah will be the chairman of this council, another new institution created by the 17 May 2020 political agreement, and will lead the “peace process,” ie the planned negotiations with the Taleban. The agreement also says that the council will be based in the Sapidar Palace, the seat of Abdullah in his former office as Chief Executive. This council is supposed to replace the current High Peace Council (HPC) (AAN reporting here) and integrate the complete structural framework for the planned negotiations with the Taleban, that is the High Council for National Reconciliation, the State Ministry for Peace which will from now on serve as the secretariat of this council, and the negotiation team (AAN reporting here). The fact that the political agreement is designed to be the founding document for the council has been driven by Abdullah’s concern that, if it was established by a presidential decree, this would indirectly put him under Ghani. (Abdullah, however, indirectly accepted this by agreeing to have, as chair of the new reconciliation council, the protocol of the “second highest place” in the state, after the president – more about this below.) Abdullah will have five deputies in this position, and his running-mates will be two of them. The three other deputies will be appointed “in consultation with the president.” Abdullah will form the council “in consultation with the president, political parties [taraf-ha-ye siasi, not “ahzab,” for formal, registered political parties] and leaders, the speakers of the two houses of the national assembly, [representatives of] civil society and the country’s elites (nokhbagan).”

There are six other subsections under the provisions regarding this council:

  • Authority of the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation

Abdullah’s authorities will be to lead “national peace process affairs”; chair meetings of the council; and appoint the executive and administrative officials and employees, including the officials of the state ministry for peace affairs.

  • Authorities of the council 

The council’s authorities will be to “identify, approve and lead the affairs related to the peace process.” Its decisions will be based on a majority of votes and will be final and “binding, to be implemented in the light of the constitution.” The negotiation team will work “under the guidance of the leadership committee” of the council, act in accordance with its approval and guidelines, and report to the chairman (Abdullah) and the council. The president (Ghani) will invite consultative meetings of the council if needed. 

  • Duties 

The council’s duties will be to build a “national, regional and international consensus” on peace affairs and attract international aid and support for advancing peace and post-peace reconstruction.

  • Structure 

According to the text of the agreement, the council will be comprised of “political leaders, national personalities, representatives of the National Assembly, representatives of different political and social strata, civil society, women and youths.” It will have two “parts”: the general assembly and a leadership committee. The document provides that the leadership committee will be comprised of political leaders and national personalities, and an authorised representative of the president will attend its meetings. No such description is given for the general assembly; it is likely that the description of the membership given for the council in general is identical with the general assembly.

The agreement again does not specify how many members the council will have. It also does not describe the relationship between the general assembly and the leadership committee. It only indicates, by describing a wider membership for the council in general (which seems to be identical with its general assembly) and a narrower membership for the leadership committee. Also the general assembly’s specific duties and whether it will be a permanent body or not have not been defined in the agreement. The authority and duties of both “parts” of the council will be regulated in its future internal procedures. 

The 21-member negotiation team announced earlier on 2 March (AAN reporting here) and the state ministry for peace (established in June 2019) will be part of the structure of the council, by serving as the secretariat of the council and the negotiation team. If needed, the council’s structure will be further expanded in consultation with the president.

The membership structure described for the council might be intended to make it as inclusive as possible, accommodating a range of political and societal actors, while the leadership committee might become the real authoritative body within the council. 

  • Protocol

As briefly mentioned before, the agreement gives Abdullah, as the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, “the second highest place in terms of security measures and protocol” “in all relevant ceremonies.” His (five) deputies and senior advisor will also have “government protocol, security and formalities.” The presidential office issued a statement that seems to indicate that ‘relevant ceremonies’ here relates, in the understanding of the Palace, “to issues related to national reconciliation” only. It stated that the constitution reserves the country’s second highest place for the first vice-president. This statement also seemed to aim at assuaging Ghani’s first vice-president Saleh’s possible sense of being relegated to a third place in the country’s political and power pyramid. 

  • Budget

The High Council for National Reconciliation, according to the agreement, will be an “independent budgetary unit” to be financed by the government. However, it will also be authorised to receive funding from international authorities for the purpose of advancing peace. The execution of its expenses will be under the full authority of the chairman of the council, but will not be exempted from government auditing (bar-rasi).

  • Appreciation for the previous leaders of the peace process

This is basically a gesture to the four previous chairs of the High Peace Council since its establishment ten years ago, in September 2010. Two of them are honoured posthumously, the first chairman, former president Borhanuddin Rabbani who was assassinated by the Taleban in September 2011 (AAN reporting here) and former jihadi leader, the late Sayed Ahmad Gailani. They also included Rabbani’s eldest son and former minister of foreign affairs, Salahuddin Rabbani, and “especially Muhammad Karim Khalili,” the head of the HPC since June 2017. Khalili and this council are now being replaced by Abdullah and the upgraded High Council for National Reconciliation. 

  • Participation in the government

According to this provision, Abdullah will “introduce” 50 per cent of cabinet posts, including for some key ministries. This wording is relatively vague and keeps the option open of rejection by the president. This is another point of possible future conflict.

The agreement also stipulates that provincial governors will be appointed based on “a rule agreed upon by the two sides.” It also says that replacement or dismissal of cabinet members and provincial governors should be based on “justified reasons” and that the new candidates should be appointed by the same team that introduces candidates for those posts (this is also based on experience of the NUG under which Ghani had appointed cabinet members and provincial governors based on the agreement, but throughout the term replaced them with his own people). Abdullah had earlier proposed that he should appoint the provincial governors of the 18 provinces where he had received the majority of the votes in the September 2019 election (AAN reporting here). The wording of the agreement is ambiguous and leaves the final procedure for appointing governors still to be determined, another provision that might prove contentious.

Furthermore, this part of the agreement is also designed to accommodate Ghani’s former Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum, who had not been nominated for this office as he had in the past. This was the result of ethno-political arithmetic. (One of the four major ethnic groups – Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks – is always missing on the three-member presidential election tickets, with one presidential and two vice-presidential candidates.). The agreement says that Dostum would be promoted to the rank of marshal through a presidential decree. Kabul-based daily 8am reported that this particular provision had been signed separately on 17 May, before the entire agreement was signed. Dostum, who remains the most powerful Uzbek politician in Afghanistan, with a large potential to mobilise armed forces, will also be a member of the High State Council and the National Security Council. (2)

Reform

The reform envisaged in the agreement is to pave the way for provincial and district council elections. This is necessary to complete the quorum for an eventual loya jirga. In contrast to the 2014 NUG agreement, however, no particular loya jirga is envisaged. In the 2014 agreement, a loya jirga was meant to be convened to decide on whether to abolish or turn the position of the Chief Executive into a permanent prime ministerial role, but this never happened. Abdullah’s initial demand to become a permanent prime minister under this agreement did not materialise. The provision to hold these elections, however, is similar to the 2014 agreement which also called for holding the long overdue first post-2001 district council elections. (3) 

This part of the agreement also calls for holding elections for mayors. This is one of the seven types of elections envisaged in the constitution, but they have never been held. Instead, mayors are appointed by the president. 

Again similar to the 2019 agreement, the reforms also call for appointing a commission to draft an amendment to the constitution in order to “change the government’s structure” after holding the district council elections. (Abdullah has been advocating for changing the presidential system into a parliamentary system.) This commission was never established under the NUG agreement. 

The agreement then calls for “electoral reform,” including on legal, technical and personnel issues as well as for the “standard use” of the biometric voting system. It also stipulates changing the current electoral system – the Single Non-Transferable Vote system (SNTV), and “considering” a discussion on a Multidimensional Representation (MDR) system or any other alternative in “agreement” with experts and the constitution. This is again a repeat of the 2014 NUG agreement which envisaged a commission for proposing electoral reform. The commission was established after much delay and proposed several reform packages which included switching to MDR. However, only some parts of the proposed reform – and not the SNTV/MDR switch – were accepted by Ghani (AAN reporting here). (4) Referring to possible alternatives here means that MDR might not be the consensus alternative to SNTV. The agreement also envisages amendments to the political party law in accordance with the (future) electoral reform. 

Finally, this part of the agreement calls for the establishment of new local administrations. This seems to be a response to a demand by some Abdullah allies such as Hazara politicians Muhammad Mohaqeq and Khalili who have been asking for the promotion of Jaghori (Ghazni) and Behsud districts (Maidan Wardak) to provinces, as well as the demand of Dostum’s Jombesh party for doing the same with some Uzbek-dominated districts such as Andkhoy (Faryab). 

  • Oversight and implementation mechanism

The agreement foresees an oversight and mediation commission comprised of six “national and political elders” based on “agreement of the sides” who will be authorised, based on the agreement, to prevent violations of the agreement. It also calls for forming a joint technical team comprising an equal number of members from the two sides to identify possible instances of violations. If this technical team fails to find solutions, the side affected by the violation will officially refer the issue to the oversight and mediation commission. The oversight and mediation teams then communicate their decisions to the president and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, but the agreement does not explicitly stipulate whether or not the two bodies’ decisions will be binding. The 2014 agreement also provided for such a joint oversight commission, but it was never formed. Abdullah unilaterally established a commission headed by Muhammad Nateqi, deputy head of Mohaqeq’s Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Mardom, but it was never relevant. 

The agreement also provided for UN representatives to participate in its signing ceremony. This did not materialise. There was no non-Afghan participation.

  • Validity date

Finally, the political agreement will be valid till the end of the government’s term. Specifying the timeframe for the agreement seems to have stemmed from the experience with the confusion following the 2014 agreement about its term (two or five years) and certain deadlines to be met which were not. There was a need for then US secretary of state John Kerry to travel to Kabul and reconfirm the term of the agreement to be a full, five-year term (AAN reporting here).  

Reactions

Afghanistan’s international partners broadly welcomed the agreement and the compromises both sides agreed to. UNAMA issued a statement saying the agreement paved the way “to resolve the political impasse and enable the leaders to address the grave challenges facing the country,” that is “the need to move forward on intra-Afghan negotiations, managing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening humanitarian situation, as well as the ongoing conflict and security challenges.” It stated that at such a time, the country would be “best served by a representative government that can present a united front” in tackling those issues. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with both Ghani and Abdullah on the phone and congratulated them “for reaching an agreement on inclusive governance” while regretting “the time lost during the political impasse.” According to the media readout, Pompeo reiterated that the priority for his country remained “a political settlement to end the conflict and welcomed the commitment by the two leaders to act immediately in support of prompt entry into intra-Afghan negotiations.”  (5) This was echoed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of EU Commission, who had been the first international representative to recognise Ghani as the head of state following the disputed announcement of the election result in February 2020 (AAN reporting here and here), as well as by various  ambassadors (see for example here and here). 

From among neighbouring and regional countries, Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs also welcomed the signing of the agreement. It also said that the US-Taleban agreement had created a “historic opportunity” for advancing “the goals of peace and reconciliation” and it was critical “Intra-Afghan negotiations commence at the earliest, culminating in a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.” Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif called Abdullah and expressed support for “the political accord” and for a “regional consensus on ceasefire.” There is no report whether Zarif also called Ghani. (Abdullah’s tweet about the call here.) The spokesman for Iran’s ministry of foreign affairs, Sayed Abbas Musavi, said that his country was ready to “assist the intra-Afghan political talks and continuation of the process of the alignment among Afghan groups including the Taleban.” Moreover, the special representatives for Afghanistan Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran joined the praise and expressed their “hope that the major upheaval would expedite the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations.” 

Russia and Iran had previously not recognised the election result. Earlier, on 20 February, two days after its announcement, the spokesman for Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs, Maria Zakharova, had raised her country’s concern about the “controversy around the results” and called for “an effective solution” to it after noting that Abdullah “did not recognise the results.” 

A Turkish ministry of foreign affairs statement said that the country was “pleased that the political crisis in Afghanistan” had “ended with a political reconciliation” between “the parties on the formation of a broad-based and inclusive government.” The political agreement seems to have restored the support from Iran and Turkey for the government in Kabul after, as the BBC reported, Iranian and Turkish diplomats had attended Abdullah’s parallel inauguration ceremony on 9 March and not Ghani’s. Iran’s position about the post-election developments reportedly enraged Ghani. The BBC report quoted sources close to Ghani saying that after the killing in January 2020 in Iraq of General Qasem Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the external force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the Pasdaran), and escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran, Ghani had told the US that he did not want his country’s soil to be used against any other country, but that Iran’s officials have behaved towards Kabul less considerately.

Earlier, on 20 April, the Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Musavi told a weekly press briefing that his country’s senior officials, including foreign minister Javad Zarif, had been holding talks with Afghan officials about the post-election political divisions and that all of Iran’s efforts were “in line with helping establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan in a bid to bring peace and stability to the country, within the framework of respecting its nation’s and government’s interests.” In addition, Iran’s special representative for Afghanistan Affairs, Muhammad Ibrahim Taherian, was in Kabul for a week in the second half of April where he met Ghani, Abdullah and other political leaders. In his meeting with former deputy chief executive Muhammad Mohaqeq on 21 April, Taherian said that his country wanted “a reasonable and fair agreement and understanding between the two leading electoral teams [of Ghani and Abdullah]” (see the BBC report here). US envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmai Khalilzad reportedly acknowledged in a recent off-the-record discussion (AAN has seen the notes from the discussion) that Iran had been helpful in resolving the political crisis. 

In Afghanistan, some of Abdullah’s allies were unhappy with him backing down from his earlier position calling for nullifying the election results and creating the post of prime minister. Particularly, Abdullah’s party, Jamiat-e Islami, and here mainly former foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Zia Massud, on the following day sharply criticised the agreement, as it legitimised the “fraudulent 2019 election result” and kept the “centralised power structure,” the acceptance of which for Jamiat would be tantamount to crossing its “red line” and trampling the party’s “vital principle of horizontal distribution of power.” It also said that the agreement had brought this political camp only “mamuriat” (assignments, posts) which Jamiat had never sought; it rather had aimed at decentralising the political system by making “the national decision-making authority participatory.”

The Taleban’s spokesman for their political office in Qatar, Suhail Shahin, called the agreement “only a repetition of the past failed experiences” in tweets (here and here). He added that “the real solution of [the] Afghan issue” lies in implementation of the Doha Accord and that “the prisoners’ release process should be completed and the intra-Afghan negotiations should start.”

What happens next?

The agreement now allows Ghani to form a cabinet and fill other high profile positions. He had started appointments (for six cabinet and high profile posts) on 30 March already, halted them on 5 April, after a call by the mediators from Karzai’s group, (6) but resumed them before the signing of the agreement. On 13 May, he appointed two state ministers (they do not require a confirmation by the Wolesi Jirga):  

  • Ghulam Bahauddin Jilani as the state minister for disaster management (see the announcement by the administrative office of the president here)
  •  Zia ul-Haq Amarkhel as the state minister for parliamentary affairs (announcement here) . (7)

A day later, on 14 May, Ghani appointed five new provincial governors: 

  • Muhammad Zia Hamdard for Daikundi; 
  • Nur Muhammad Kohnaward for Ghor; 
  • Muhammad Ajmal Shahpur for Logar; 
  • Sayed Ala Rahmati for Bamyan; 
  • General Muhammad Nabi Ahmadzai for Zabul. (8)

These appointments were a sign that the Ghani-Abdullah agreement was imminent, as they include some Abdullah allies. The new Daikundi governor, for example, is affiliated with Mohaqeq.

Meanwhile, the agreement also opens the door for the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taleban. However, the reconciliation council, and possibly its sub-structures, first need to be formed and guidelines developed for the negotiations. Also, issues over the prisoner exchanges (AAN reporting here) as well as the continuation of violence stand in the way. 

Conclusion: An agreement, but lingering underlying problems

Much of the agreement revolves around the distribution of government posts and access to resources and issues of ‘protocol’ so that everyone in the two main contending camps during the 2019 election gets a slice of the pie. It also establishes a number of new state institutions. 

Given the disputed election result, the new form of power-sharing arrangement was predictable. For instance, former deputy minister of defence Tamim Asey – now with his own think tank  – had predicted in an article for Kabul-based daily Hasht-e Sobh on 1 Mizan 1398 (23 September 2019) that three scenarios can be envisioned after the election: a “National Unity Government 2.0,” an interim administration or all-out crisis and disintegration. None of them materialised, however. Further political disintegration was, happily, avoided; as was an interim government which might have propelled both Ghani and Abdullah out of government, possibly for good. The price is another blow to the democratic process and the constitutional order. Both Ghani and Abdullah paid the price of giving ‘advisors’ like ex-president Karzai and some of the remaining ‘jihadi leaders’ and ex-warlords (if ‘ex’ at all) strong positions and a say in future political decision-making through the new High State Council and the leadership committee of the reconciliation council (the members of these two seem to be overlapping, consisting of the same “political leaders and national figures”). While some jihadi leaders always had considerable influence, particularly under Karzai, for the first time their role is formally institutionalised through the new councils.

Ghani, in particular, wanted to avoid a solution that is just another NUG scenario. The NUG was bogged down over appointments much of the time, and the big issues – and end of the war and the dire socio-economic  situation – remained unresolved (AAN reporting here and here). Ghani’s early attempts to mobilise US, Chinese and Pakistani support for putting pressure on the Taleban to end their boycott of the Afghan government failed, and the percentage of Afghans living under poverty line rose from 38 to 55 per cent under the NUG watch. Despite some progress on domestic revenues, the country might be as far away from any resemblance of economic autarky – Ghani’s political goal for 2024 – as it was in 2014.

Formally, Ghani was successful on avoiding the NUG 2.0 scenario, in terms of Abdullah not joining the government again. The price he paid was to promote him to a position that has more prestige (hence the ‘second highest’ protocol) than his previous position as the ill-defined Chief Executive. On the other hand, the right given to the Abdullah camp to nominate half of the cabinet members and for other high ranking positions does not constitute a large difference with the 2014 NUG agreement. 

The big question now is whether Abdullah’s new position at the top of a new institution (which is not based on the constitution again) is a real compromise, in the sense that Ghani – known for his micro-management in much lesser affairs – is ready to hand over all authority over the peace process to Abdullah. (The agreement also has built-in provisions that still give him a strong say.) It also still needs to be seen whether Abdullah will be extended the necessary cooperation by Ghani’s camp or will be pushed aside under the usual power politics and ethno-factional rivalries that plagued the NUG. Furthermore, the issue of the still open size, concrete membership and rules of procedure for the reconciliation council, its general assembly and its powerful leadership committee might become contentious again and lead to further political wrestling.

It cannot be ruled out that Ghani has actually given up on political negotiations with the Taleban. In this case, Abdullah’s role would be rendered irrelevant. Recent remarks by security advisor Moheb might point in this direction when he accused the Taleban of being behind the horrid attack on a hospital-cum-maternity ward in West Kabul on 12 May 2020. Moheb had tweeted (quoted here) that the Taleban “attacks of the last two months show us and the world that the Taliban and their sponsors do not and did not intend to pursue peace” and that if the Taleban were unable to control the violence, then there “seems little point in continuing to engage the Taliban in peace talks.”

The agreement differs from the 2014 one in a sense that Ghani is not bound to consult with Abdullah in exercising his executive power apart from needing to appoint Abdullah and his allies’ nominees for cabinet (50 per cent) and provincial governor positions (based on a rule that still has not been agreed). There is nothing in the agreement about Abdullah’s membership in the cabinet and the National Security Council. The BBC’s Persian service reported that he would not be a member of these two bodies.

The new agreement is similar to the one in 2014 in that it repeats the same political demands such as holding district council elections, establishing a commission to draft amendments to the constitution, holding a loya jirga to change the government’s structure (ie to modify the presidential system) and reform the electoral laws and institutions and system. These demands came only from Abdullah’s camp, while Ghani was never interested in such reforms. Particularly, holding elections for district councils is unrealistic in the ongoing war; previous attempts have failed unambiguously. 

Finally, the political agreement ended the post-election political impasse and the existence of double governments. It allowed, on paper, the two main political rivals and their backers to join forces under the umbrella of the Islamic Republic. But in practice, it did not remove the underlying causes of the crisis, notably the polarisation caused by the current political system. The two signatories’ faces during the ceremony also did not indicate that the last months’ tensions have gone away and that both parties, and their top leaders, will develop genuine cooperation. There is also no guarantee that the politically ambitious members of the High State Council have been sufficiently accommodated and that they will cooperate with Ghani and Abdullah. It is possible that the new institutions might work, but there is also still room for further conflict, particularly in the undefined provisions that detail their exact composition. 

Edited by Thomas Ruttig and Rachel Reid


(1) The political attendees were:  

  • former President Hamed Karzai
  • Yunus Qanuni, former vice-president 
  • Muhammad Karim Khalil, former vice-president 
  • Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, jihadi leader and former MP 
  • Zalmai Rasul, former foreign minister and national advisor 
  • Batur Dostum, acting head of central committee of Jombesh-e Melli and MP 
  • Yusuf Ghazanfar, Ghani’s special representative for economic and business development and poverty alleviationaffairs 

AAN heard from sources that Rasul and Ghazanfar were there as witnesses who, in addition to Karzai, Sayyaf, Qanuni and Khalili, will also be members of the oversight and mediation team envisaged in the agreement (AAN cannot confirm this information).

(2) Dostum will become the third marshal in country’s history after late marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, defence minister and then vice president under Karzai, who died in 2014; and King Nader Shah’s brother Shah Wali Khan who was accorded the rank of marshal and title of “conqueror of Kabul” for capturing Kabul from king Habibullah Kalakani in 1929 (AAN reporting here). There was opposition to his promotion, including from his Uzbek rival, Ahmad Eshchi, who had accused Dostum of serious physical assault and abuse in late 2016 (AAN reporting here).

(3) As AAN reported earlier, the constitution gives a strong role for district councils: one third (34) of the 102 members of the Meshrano Jirga should be elected by district councils and district councillors should make up more than half of the members of any Constitutional Loya Jirga (the only body which can change the Afghan constitution). There was an attempt by the IEC to hold the first district council election together with the 2018 parliamentary elections, but was dropped after not enough candidates had registered. However, AAN then reported “hostility by sections of the National Unity Government to holding them at all” as one of the more overarching factors for failing to hold the elections.  Also, the IEC had planned (AAN reporting here) to hold both provincial council and district council (as well as the Wolesi Jirga in Ghazni) elections together with the September 2019 presidential election but abandoned it under pressure from the international donors to focus only on the presidential election (AAN reporting here). 

Also, the chairs of the 34 provincial councils are members of the Loya Jirga, according to the constitution. 

(4) MDR was again envisaged (AAN reporting here) in the presidential decree endorsing the amendments to the electoral law ahead of the 2019 presidential election, which could be applied to the provincial council elections but was made irrelevant after those elections were forsaken. Moreover, the IEC also issued a statement last year saying that a number of the political party and civil society representatives had demanded the “Sainte-Lague” formula, while a number of others had demanded “the largest remainder” formula to allocate the seats and while a number of political party representatives “did not show that much interest” in changing the current SNTV system (AAN reporting here).  

(5) US secretary of state Mike Pompeo also tweeted

Glad to hear from @ashrafghani and @DrabdullahCE about their agreement on inclusive governance. We welcome their commitment to act now for peace in Afghanistan.

(6) He made appointments for the following positions: his chief of staff; acting ministers of finance, foreign affairs and information and culture; the director of the NDS (they need parliament approval to become permanent); and Kabul Mayor. He made one more appointment on 9 April, namely Fazel Fazly as the general director of the administrative office of the president (AAN reporting here).

(7) Amarkhel replaced Ghulam Faruq Wardak. Jilani replaced Najib Aqa Fahim. According to the announcement by the administrative office of the presidential office, Amarkhel holds a master’s degree in development from Italy and has served as senior presidential advisor for public and political affairs as well as the head of IEC’s secretariat.

(8) Hamdard replaced Sayed Ala Rahmati. According the announcement by the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), he holds a master’s degree and has “good experiences” in governance.

Kohnaward replaced Ghulam Naser Khazi. According to the announcement by the IDLG, he is a retired NDS general who has good working experience, the required qualification and higher education (it however did specify the degree and field of study). 

Shahpur replaced Muhammad Anwar Khan Ishaqzai. The IDLG announced that he had worked as the deputy minister of information and culture for youth affairs before. 

Rahmati replaced Taher Zuhair (who had earlier been introduced as the nominee for the minister of information and culture). Before, he was the governor of Daikundi and, according to the IDLG has good work experience, the required qualification and higher education (but did not specify the degree and field of studies). 

Ahmadzai replaced Rahmatullah Yarmal. He had been serving as Logar deputy governor before and his military rank is Major General (IDLG announcement here).


Annex 1

AAN’s working translation of the political agreement between Ghani and Abdullah

The signed copy of the agreement was posted by Abdullah in Dari on 18 May 2020.

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Political Agreement

In order to meet the expectation of the people of Afghanistan, support defence and security forces, respect the continued and helpful efforts by national personalities and international community for resolving the political crisis resulting from the election in the country, to find a solution to end the political disputes, and respecting the difference of opinions of the country’s political leaders in this respect, realising that a continuation of the current political situation is not in the interests of the country and the people of Afghanistan and to get out of the impasse, the following themes were agreed:

  1. Supreme State Council (Shura-ye ‘Ali-ye Dawlat)
  2. In order to build political consensus, a Supreme State Council comprising political leaders and national personalities shall be established.
  3. The Council shall advise the country’s president on crucial national issues.
  4. Members of the Supreme State Council shall be given special government protocol and necessary security measures shall be provided for them.
  5. Chairmanship of High Council for National Reconciliation (Maqam-e Riasat-e Shura-ye ‘Ali-ye Mosaleha-ye Melli)

1. Rasmiyat (Official basis) and establishment

Upon signing of this document:

  • The High Council for National Reconciliation shall be established based on the political agreement between the sides.
  • Honorable Dr Abdullah Abdullah as the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall lead the peace process.
  • The chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall have five deputies; the running-mates of [Abdullah’s electoral] Stability and Integration team shall serve as deputies of the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation; other deputies of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall be introduced in consultation with the president. 
  • The Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall form this council in consultation with the president, political sides and leaders, the speakers of the two houses of the National Assembly, civil society and the country’s elites. 
  • The office of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall be based in Sapidar palace. 

2. Authorities:

The Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall have the following authorities:

  • Leading the national peace process affairs;
  • Leading meetings of the High Council for National Reconciliation;
  • Appointing officials and executive and administrative employees, including mansubin (officials) of the State Ministry for Peace.

3. Authorities of the High Council for National Reconciliation:

  • The High Council for National Reconciliation shall verify, approve and lead the affairs related to peace process.
  • The decisions and approvals of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall be taken based on majority votes taking the country’s national exigencies [interests] into account.
  • The decisions and approvals of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall be final and binding to be implemented in the light of the country’s constitution.
  • The negotiation team shall serve under the guidance of the leadership committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation, act in accordance with its approvals and guidelines, and report to the chairman and the High Council for National Reconciliation. 

The president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan shall call consultative meetings of the High Council for National Reconciliation if needed. 

4. Duties of the High Council for National Reconciliation 

  • Build national, regional and international consensus on peace affairs;
  • Attract international aid and support for better advancement of peace affairs;
  • Attract international aid for the reconstruction after establishment of peace;

5. Protocol:

  • In all relevant ceremonies, the country’s second highest-ranking position in terms of security measures and protocol shall be considered for the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.
  • The deputies introduced by and senior advisor of the Chairman of High Council for National Reconciliation shall have government protocol, security and formalities.

6. Budget

  • The High Council for National Reconciliation shall be an independent budgetary unit.
  • The budget of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall be financed by the government of Afghanistan.
  • The High Council for National Reconciliation shall receive funding from international [donor] authorities for better advancement of peace affairs.
  • The execution of budget expenditure shall be in the full authority of the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation and shall not be exempted from bar-rasi [government auditing].

7. Structure of the High Council for National Reconciliation:

  • The High Council for National Reconciliation shall be comprised of political leaders, national personalities, representatives of the National Assembly, representatives of different political and social strata, civil society, women and youths.
  • The High Council for National Reconciliation shall have two sections: 1) the general assembly and 2) the leadership committee. Authorities and duties of both sections shall be regulated in the internal procedures of the council.
  • The leadership committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall be comprised of the political leaders and national personalities.
  • In addition to other members of the leadership committee, the authorised representative of the president shall also participate in leadership [committee]’s meetings as a member.
  • The High Council for National Reconciliation shall have the necessary executive structure. The negotiation team and the state ministry for peace as the secretariat shall also be part of the structure of the High Council for National Reconciliation. 
  • If needed, the structure of the High Council for National Reconciliation shall be increased in consultation with the president.
  • Appreciation of previous leaders of the peace process:

The efforts of Shahid-e Rah-e Solh (the martyr on the path of peace) honorable Ustad Borhanuddin Rabbani, honorable Salahuddin Rabbani, honorable late Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani and especially honorable Ustad Muhammad Karim Khalili, for their indefatigable and sincere efforts at achieving peace, shall be appreciated. 

  •  Participation in the government:
  • General Abdul Rashid Dostum, former vice-president, shall be promoted to rank of marshal through a presidential decree; at the same time, he shall be a member of the Supreme State Council and National Security Council.
  • Introducing 50 per cent of cabinet [posts], including for key ministries.
  • Provincial governors shall be introduced based on a rule agreed by the two sides.
  • The candidates shall be introduced upon verification of qualification and legal requirements.
  • Change, replacement and dismissal shall take place with justified reasons.
  • In case of dismissal, change or replacement, the new candidate upon verification of qualification and legal requirements shall be introduced by the introducing authority [the authority that had introduced candidates for the same positions previously].
  •  Reform:
  • Paving ground for [holding] provincial and district council elections as soon as possible in order to complete the membership of a Loya Jirga;
  • Holding elections for mayors as soon as possible in order to implement legal provisions [unspecified] and improve city affairs;
  • Appointing a commission to draft amendments to the constitution in order to change the government’s structure after holding district council elections;
  • Electoral reform, including legal, technical and cadre reforms, including standard use of biometric [voting system], shall be undertaken as soon as possible. The reform should be carried out to change the electoral system considering the discussion on MDR or other alternatives in agreement with experts and the constitution;
  • Amendment to the political in accordance with the electoral reform;
  • In order to create administrative facilities per the people’s demand, administrative requirements and government structure, new local administrations shall be established.
  • Oversight and implementation mechanism
  • Based on agreement of the sides, an oversight and mediation commission comprised of six national and political elders of the country shall be formed.
  • Based on this agreement, the mediation commission shall be authorised to prevent violation of the agreement.
  • UN representatives may attend the signing ceremony of this agreement as observer. 
  • A joint technical team with equal number of [members] from the two sides shall be established to identify instances of violation of the agreement.
  • In case of violation and breach of the agreement, the technical team shall try to prevent the violation of the agreement through understanding; if the effort of the joint technical team does not produce any result, the representative of the side affected by the [reported] violation of the agreement shall officially refer the issue to the mediation commission.
  • The decision of the oversight and mediation commission about the disputed issue shall be communicated to the president and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

The political agreement shall be valid till the end of the government’s term.

Dr Muhammad Ashraf Ghani                                          Dr Abdullah Abdullah

President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan          Chairman of High Council for

                                                                                           National Reconciliation         

Date: 28 Saur 1399 (17 May 2020)

Venue: Delgosha Palace, Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan 

Tags:

national unity government NUG jihadi leaders Ashraf Ghani Dr Abdullah Hamed Karzai Jamiat-e Islami power-sharing High State Council Reconciliation Council

Authors:

Ali Yawar Adili

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