FEATURED | Afghanistan’s Unity Government Not So United
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FEATURED | Afghanistan’s Unity Government Not So United

By Monish Tourangbam and Nandita Palrecha 

FEATURED | Afghanistan’s Unity Government Not So United

Image Attribute: A file photo of a mullah of Day Kundi speaks to a crowd of villagers on the final day of Ramadan in the province of Day Kundi, Afghanistan, Sept. 20. 2009, / Source:  ISAF Public Affairs Kabul 090920-A-2794B-004

On August 11, 2016, media reports claimed that Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah criticized President Ashraf Ghani for failing to work collaboratively claiming that he had been left out of key decisions, and deemed Ghani arrogant and undeserving to serve the government. Abdullah also bemoaned that not even a single one-on-one meeting had been held between him and Ghani in the last three months. The Ghani camp responded calling Abdullah’s remarks as ‘not in line with the standards and spirit of governance, insisting that principles and legal criteria formed the basis of executive decisions that had been made.’ Subsequently, the US State Department spokesperson John Kirby issued a statement in which he stated that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken to both leaders stressing ‘the importance of continuing to move forward with the political and economic reforms that they're trying to enact…’ Despite a friendly meeting being held between Abdullah and Ghani, a sense of deadlock continues, which has been accentuated by Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s criticism of President Ghani for failure to properly allocate authority and a lack of trust in him. 

Conflict within the National Unity Government (NUG), however is not a recent development. The NUG itself came out of a contested election result and a subsequent compromise in power-sharing between Abdullah and Ghani brokered by the US and the UN on September 21, 2014. The many reforms and changes, as mandated by the agreement included electoral reforms before the 2015 parliamentary elections; parliamentary and district elections before the convening of the Constitutional Loya Jirga which was to amend the constitution to create a Prime Minister position to be held by CEO Abdullah by September 2016. The Agreement also called for ‘the distribution of electronic/computerized identity cards to all the citizens of the country as quickly as possible.' 

However none of these have been addressed entirely. The parliamentary and district elections that have been finalized for October 15, 2016 should have been held by September 2015. The government has increasingly sought to replace the role of the Independent Election Commission with the Special Electoral Reform Commission (SERC) while electoral reforms that have been put forth by the SERC have been disapproved in the Wolesi Jirga and Meshrano Jirga. While the convening of the Loya Jirga can only occur in the post-district elections period which means that the Jirga will have missed the September 2016 deadline, the efforts to organize electronic ID cards remain marred by disputes surrounding the inclusion or exclusion of ethnicity in the card. However, more disturbing than the performance of the government is the disunity of the Unity government becoming public. Differences between the two camps persist; over various provisions of the structure, including division of authorities between the President and CEO with respect to foreign and internal policies, electoral reforms, the authorities of some of the president's advisors and appointments of new staff. 

Sustaining the legitimacy of the government is imperative for stability in a conflict-ridden Afghanistan. In this regard, the action or inaction of former President Hamid Karzai, who has emerged in the public sphere after two years of relative quiet, will be critical. Karzai is among those who claim that the NUG has no mandate to govern past September 2016 unless it convenes the Constitutional Loya Jirga that will reorganise and reaffirm the legitimacy of the government. In the case of an inability to convene a Constitutional Loya Jirga, Karzai has claimed that the convening of a traditional Loya Jirga could help resolve the issue as to who was better to lead Afghanistan-Ghani or Abdullah. The traditional Jirga will be a consultative body to which the government invites delegates, whereas the Constitutional Jirga will be composed primarily of elected officials who can take binding legal decisions that cannot be appealed. Karzai’s meetings with leaders from across the country, is being perceived as a move to set the ball rolling for a traditional Jirga in order to initiate a transition to an interim government. However, this interim government could provide space for Karzai, to re-insert himself into the political order within Afghanistan. 

The Afghanistan Protection and Security Council, alternatively known as the Council of Protection and Stability in Afghanistan, consist of many members who are close to Karzai. This Council claims that it is not anti-government, but it has been perceived as an opposition party by some. While such moves by Karzai might be seen, as giving an excuse to the NUG leaders to delay the Constitutional Loya Jirga, these delays also seem to be fortifying Karzai’s position, undercutting the government’s legitimacy in the process. Karzai’s relationship with the US has been a precarious one, starting as a dream team, and ending on a sour note. While the Americans raised suspicions on his leadership towards the end of his tenure, his diatribes against US interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs have only increased.

The US has been at the forefront of bringing about the NUG arrangement in Afghanistan. In April 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kabul and asserted that the NUG’s mandate was for five years ‘with no termination whatsoever in six months.’ However, there exists a concurrent and different understanding in Afghanistan that the NUG’s mandate was for two years. By the latter account, the NUG’s continuation is dependent on holding the Constitutional Loya Jirga that will amend the Constitution to incorporate space for the position of a Prime Minster. While Kerry’s statement is being seen a brazen interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, the other side of the story is that the sustenance of a government in Kabul is dependent on external financial and material support, most of which comes from the US. 

What is more worrying is that the unfolding disunity within the Unity government has come at a time of declining security situation. The control or influence of the Afghan government over it's own territories has been slipping according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The Taliban also continues to engage the ANSF; feeling more emboldened in light of the drawdown of US forces. Moreover, all eyes are on the NUG’s performance which is integral to ensure the inflow of aid, especially in light of the Afghanistan Development Conference in Brussels in October 2016 where donors will take stock of the progress of the NUG. 

William Dalrymple in his book ‘Return of a King: The Battle of Afghanistan’, wrote the following lines about Afghan ruler Shah Shuja ul-Mulk: “The king whose year had begun so auspiciously… was once again… a lone fugitive, cantering blindly through the darker provinces of the Afghan night.” Will the current Afghan leaders fall prey to the perilous environment in Kabul, or will they be able to engineer relative peace and development? Only time will tell.

About the Authors: 

Monish Tourangbam (TR RID : L-2939-2016) is Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University (Karnataka)  

Nandita Palrecha (TR RID : L-4594-2016) is an independent strategic analyst based in Mumbai. She has a MA in Geopolitics and International Relations 

Cite this Article:

Tourangbam, M. Palrecha, N. "FEATURED | Afghanistan’s Unity Government Not So United" IndraStra Global Vol. No 002 , Issue No. 009 (2016), 0008http://www.indrastra.com/2016/09/FEATURED-Afghanistan-s-Unity-Government-Not-So-United-002-09-2016-0008.html | ISSN 2381-3652 | https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3806655

AIDN0020920160008 / INDRASTRA / ISSN 2381-3652 / FEATURED | Afghanistan’s Unity Government Not So United / By Monish Tourangbam and Nandita Palrecha