Discord between Afghan unity government leaders intensifies | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 18.08.2016
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Discord between Afghan unity government leaders intensifies

Calls for fresh elections have intensified in Afghanistan as the unity government leaders fail to resolve their dispute over power sharing. President Ghani and CEO Abdullah have yet to find a way to work in tandem.

Local media claim that the national unity government headed by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah is on the verge of collapse. The aides of the two leaders have held several meetings to resolve the crisis, but there hasn't been any breakthrough yet.

Ghani and Abdullah continue to blame each other for the government's failure to introduce political and economic reforms, fight corruption and deal with the growing threat posed by the Taliban and so-called "Islamic State" (IS) militant groups.

Abdullah recently told a press conference that he and the president hadn't held one-on-one meetings for the past three months.

"The ministers are not allowed to speak. We have so far dealt with the situation with patience," Abdullah said last week. He also accused Ghani of employing an authoritarian style of governance and centralizing power at the presidential office.

Archivbild Einigung über Einheitsregierung in Afghanistan unterzeichnet

Kerry helped engineer the unity government that came to power in September 2014

"There are disagreements in every government […] but if someone does not have patience for a dialogue, then they are not fit to rule either," Abdullah added.

In response, Ghani issued a brief statement, saying that "Abdullah's remarks were not in line with the standard and spirit of governance."

Critical time

The unity government has been dealing with internal strife since its formation almost two years ago. Former President Hamid Karzai handed over power to Ghani and Abdullah in September 2014. Afghanistan's election commission had named Ghani the country's president shortly after he struck a power-sharing deal with his rival Abdullah that ended a monthslong dispute over electoral fraud.

The agreement paved the way for the establishment of a national unity government, in which Abdullah filled the newly created position of chief executive officer, a post akin to prime minister.

The appointment of a new president in Afghanistan was crucial in arranging a continued foreign troop presence beyond NATO's combat mandate, slated to end at the start of 2015. President Barack Obama extended the mission last year, after Taliban violence increased across the country.

As many experts predicted, the unity government never functioned smoothly, with the two leaders disagreeing on a number of issues. Meanwhile, the Taliban have gained strength, and President Ghani has not succeeded in convincing them to come to the negotiating table.

In April, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kabul, where he expressed hope that the Afghan unity government would hold through the end of its term.

Kerry, who helped broker the power-sharing deal between Ghani and Abdullah, is aware of the discord within the unity government. He stressed the need to overcome "factional divisions" in dealing with the Taliban insurgency and tackling corruption.

Many in Afghanistan think their country cannot afford a protracted political crisis. They call on their leaders to put aside their personal issues and work for the country's progress.

"If the deadlock persists, it will only strengthen the Islamist insurgency and weaken the economy," Younus Fakor, a Kabul-based political expert, told DW.

An unclear agreement

A number of opposition politicians say the unity government will automatically lose its legitimacy in September for having failed so far to call a Loya Jirga (grand assembly) for endorsement. But some experts say the power-sharing deal between Ghani and Abdullah was meant for the entire five-year term, and that there is no need for an approval from the Jirga.

According to Fakor, the national unity agreement clearly states that the president will call a Loya Jirga within two years to determine the role of the chief executive.

Infografik National mood Afghanistan ENG

Meanwhile, opposition leaders have called for Ghani and Abdullah to step down, chiding the leaders for their failure to realize electoral reforms necessary to pave the way for parliamentary and district council elections.

"We must hold fresh elections and elect a new president to break the deadlock," Anwar Ulhaq Ahadi, an opposition leader, said Wednesday, August 17.

Fakor, however, believes that the main issue is not the agreement between the two leaders but their track record so far in power. "They have failed to work together. This makes people speculate that Afghanistan is heading for early elections."

Former Interior Minister Daudzai believes that US support alone won't solve the problems for the unity government. "The government is facing such a crisis that it needs others to resolve it. But this will create more chaos in Afghanistan," Daudzai said.

Fakor stressed the need for the government to perform to win back dwindling public support. "The government must initiate reforms, fight corruption, and improve governance," he said. "Otherwise, it can't be saved."