InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 20

The Afghan power-sharing deal and rising violence

Although a power-sharing agreement between top claimants to power in Afghanistan has recently been struck, yet the Taliban have scaled up violence, making the future of peace quite uncertain in the war-torn country yet again.

A power-sharing deal was finalized between President Ashraf Ghani and the runner-up of the last September presidential elections, Abdullah Abdullah. Under the agreement, Abdullah would become the head of the High Peace Council while 50 percent members of President Ghani’s cabinet would be the nominees of Abdullah. It is a sort of a quid pro quo in which Ghani has ultimately been accepted as the legal president of Afghanistan by his political rivals. Abdullah, who also disputed the election of 2014, which Ghani won for the first time, refused to accept the results of the last presidential elections too. In 2014, after a US-brokered power-sharing deal Abdullah had become the Chief Executive Officer or a virtual prime minister as the Afghan constitution does not have any provision for the slot. However, relations between Ghani and Abdullah never became normal and both challenged each other in the last presidential election.

It is important to note that Ghani is from the largest Pashtoon ethnic group of Afghanistan while Abdullah belongs to the second largest ethno-linguistic group, Tajiks. Although Abdullah has been making claims to have won elections on both occasions, yet he could not prove it even after a vote recount in 2014. It has been a good strategy by Abdullah as it has kept him in power somehow. However, the most important point is that whether he or his ethnic group could resolve the complex issues of Afghanistan? The answer is obviously “no.” Nevertheless, the power sharing deal between Ghani and Abdullah is a good development for war-ravaged Afghanistan. At least the deal would enable the two top leaders of Afghanistan, who also obtained the highest number of votes, to work together for development, if not stability and peace, in the country.

Development and stability in Afghanistan largely depend upon the Taliban joining the peace process and ultimately becoming a shareholder in power in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban have stepped up attacks against the government forces, officials and installations in the last three months since the insurgents struck a deal with the United States, paving the way for the latter’s withdrawal over several months. One of the conditions of the Taliban peace agreement with Washington was that the Afghan authorities would free 5,000 of their prisoners before the start of the second and real round of the peace process that is an intra-Afghan dialogue among all stakeholders and claimants to power in the country. However, the Afghan authorities under President Ghani refused to abide by the agreement as it was not party to it. However, the Afghan government has so far freed around 1,000 Taliban prisoners and the insurgents also set free nearly 240 Afghan personnel, who were in their captivity. It is somewhat strange that why President Ghani is hesitant to free all Taliban prisoners when it could pave the way for real and much-needed intra-Afghan peace dialogue. One reckons that he and more appropriately members of his establishment do not want to hold peace talks with the Taliban for fear of their own future.

It is important to note that on May 10, President Ghani had ordered the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to switch to an “offensive” position against the militants after two deadly attacks killed dozens of people days earlier. A daylight raid on a Kabul hospital left at least 24 people dead, including mothers and infants. The attack invited international outrage followed by a suicide bombing at a funeral which killed at least 32 mourners. The Taliban denied involvement in both attacks, although Ghani surprisingly blamed the militants along with the Islamic State (Daesh) for the attacks. While the Taliban had denied their involvement in them, blaming them for the attacks by President Ghani raised many eyebrows. It obviously meant that he was in search of pretexts to launch an offensive against the Taliban. It is happening at a time when the US, Pakistan and all other international forces are asking Ghani to start dialogue with the Taliban. On their part, the Taliban cannot open talks until a so-far piecemeal prisoner swap is completed which is also slow because of the Afghan government. By delaying the process and also blaming the Taliban for the attacks, the security situation has worsened in Afghanistan and Dr. Ghani’s government is apparently losing fast. It is his administration’s failure that it could not stop the attacks from the Taliban which have been going on with an ever-increasing frequency and deadliness. The Taliban have carried out more than 3,800 attacks and killed 420 civilians since they struck a deal with Washington. On May 18, the Taliban carried out an attack on the office of the Afghan security agency, National Directorate of Security, killing at least seven intelligence personnel in Ghazni, while they launched a major offensive to overtake the northern strategic Afghan city of Kunduz on May 19, which they temporarily held in September 2015. The Afghan government has not been able to stem the attacks by the Taliban and it has been the airpower of the United States that has been saving the day for the ANSF but the question is for how long?

The Taliban have been carrying out attacks on ANSF personnel and government officials and installations in order to enter peace dialogue from the position of strength in order to secure the biggest pie in future power sharing. It is typical of any insurgent group. However, the Taliban are also making the attacks in frustration with the Afghan authorities which seem equally non-committal to the peace dialogue with the Taliban. As President Ghani and Abdullah have realized that keeping the Afghan Taliban from the power corridors is in the best interest of their respective camps, they seem to have struck a power-sharing deal with each other. The intentions of both Ghani and Abdullah are also not good at all when they have agreed to make Afghan Uzbek warlord and former Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum as “Martial” of the Afghan forces. Dostum has been a blood-thirsty warlord known for his human rights violations during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. Making him “Martial” of the Afghan forces is not a good sign as he is not a professional soldier but it seems that Abdullah and Ghani have really switched to the “offensive” position against the Taliban. However, it does not augur well for peace and stability in Afghanistan and may harm the idea of intra-Afghan dialogue before it starts.