What will determine the success of the Afghan unity government? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 22.09.2014
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What will determine the success of the Afghan unity government?

Ashraf Ghani was named Afghanistan's new president shortly after signing a power-sharing deal with Abdullah Abdullah. But many fear the new government may be paralyzed by internal power struggles, Andrew Wilder tells DW.

Afghanistan's election commission named Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai the country's president shortly after the former finance minister and his electoral rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah struck a power-sharing deal ending a months-long dispute over electoral fraud.

The agreement foresees the establishment of a national unity government where Abdullah is set to fill the newly created position of chief executive officer, a post akin to prime minister. The political crisis over fraud claims dashed the hopes of many for a smooth democratic transition in the conflict-ridden country. The final election results were not released on Sunday, September 21, amid concerns it would raise tensions.

But there were no mass celebrations on the streets of Kabul either. The power-sharing agreement comes at a critical time for the South Asian nation as foreign troops prepare to leave in the coming months and government forces face an increasingly resilient insurgency.

Andrew Wilder, Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace, talks in a DW interview about the main challenges facing the new government, how Ghani and Adbullah will be able to work together and what the effectiveness of the unity government will ultimately depend on.

Andrew Wilder USIP

Wilder: 'The most immediate challenge for the new government will be to regain the trust of the disillusioned Afghan public'

DW: Does the end of the election dispute and the announcement of the new government mark the beginning of a new chapter in Afghan history?

Andrew Wilder: Sunday's signing of the "National Unity Government" and the subsequent declaration by the Independent Election Commission that Ashraf Ghani won the election definitely marks the end of one chapter in Afghanistan's history. This last chapter began with the removal from power of the Taliban regime by US forces in the fall of 2001, and the signing of the Bonn Agreement establishing a transitional administration headed by Hamid Karzai in December 2001.

The big question is how long this next chapter in Afghanistan's history, which marks the beginning of the post-Karzai era, will last. Let's hope that the power-sharing agreement between Ashraf Ghani as president and Abdullah Abdullah as the chief executive officer (CEO) works, but many fear that the new unity government could quickly become paralyzed by internal power struggles between the rival presidential and CEO camps.

If this new government proves incapable of addressing some of the pressing security, economic and political reform issues confronting the country, and the US and its NATO allies continue to sharply reduce their troop presence and levels of economic assistance, I fear that this next chapter will be a short and potentially violent one.

There is no constitutional support for the chief executive position unless the constitution is amended. How is the unity government expected to function?

As illustrated by the examples of Cambodia in 1993, or more recently in Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2008, the recent history of "national unity" governments being able to promote stability and govern effectively is not encouraging. Let's hope Afghanistan proves to be a positive exception.

But the fact that the 2004 Constitution established a unitary state with executive powers vested in the president, and provided no constitutional support for the CEO position, will very likely generate conflicts between the president and CEO over who is responsible for what.

Because of the extra-constitutional nature of some of the provisions of the current power-sharing agreement, Clause A of the National Unity Government Agreement calls for the convening of a Loya Jirga within two years to consider amending the constitution to create the position of an executive prime minister. This requirement itself is likely to be politically destabilizing and fuel ethnic tensions given the highly contentious nature of the decentralization debate in Afghan politics.

Given the elections were marred by accusations and allegations of fraud, how well do you believe Ghani and Abdullah will be able to share power and work together in the new government?

If left to them, I believe Ghani and Abdullah would be able work together - and even complement one another. Both are highly qualified and capable individuals who, while they have their differences, I believe want the best for Afghanistan. The main problem is not the two of them, but some of the powerbrokers in their camps who still have considerable influence and will constrain the ability of the president and the CEO to act independently.

We will see very soon whether Ghani and Abdullah can unite and move a reform agenda forward in Afghanistan, and resist pressures from political elites to maintain the status quo, when we see who gets appointed to the key powerful positions in the new government.

The effectiveness of their government will be determined to a large extent by the quality of the individuals they appoint to key positions. This will be the key indicator in the weeks and months ahead of the extent to which the national unity government can succeed.

If there is disagreement between the president and the chief executive, how should it be resolved to ensure the stability of the existing constitution?

The second paragraph of the National Unity Government Agreement states that, "The relationship between the President and the CEO cannot be described solely and entirely by this agreement, but must be defined by the commitment by both sides to partnership, collegiality, collaboration...." This I think correctly highlights that there are still many ambiguities that will need to be resolved, but somewhat optimistically hopes that they can be resolved through collegiality and collaboration.

However, the very first paragraph of the agreement states that "Stability of the country is strengthened by a genuine political partnership between the President and the CEO, under the authority of the President."

While hopefully the commitment to partnership, collegiality and collaboration will help resolve issues, ultimately the president has the constitutional authority to make final decisions.

Much time will likely be spent in political bickering and in-fighting between the two camps now represented in the government, and it seems by no means certain that the two parties, which have shown little goodwill and collegiality in recent months, will now suddenly agree to work as partners rather than rivals.

How effective is the new unity government likely to be?

I think the only real hope for the national unity government succeeding is if it promotes reforms that enable it to provide better governance to the Afghan people, and that the international community in turn provides the new government with sufficient economic and military assistance to succeed. The success of the new unity government will initially depend on several factors over which it will have varying levels of influence.

Symbolbild ISAF Soldat

The Bilateral Security Agreement with the US must be signed for Washinton to maintain some troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014

The three factors over which it can have the greatest influence are: First, signing the Bilateral Security Agreement so that the US and its NATO allies have a strong legal basis to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, especially given the deteriorating security situation; Second, appointing qualified and capable individuals into key government positions to demonstrate to the Afghan people and major international donors that the new government is committed to promoting a reform agenda;

Third, Adopting measures, such as prosecuting those who stole nearly one billion USD from Kabul Bank, to demonstrate that the new government will reduce the extreme levels of corruption that delegitimized the previous administration and seriously damaged the economy.

What factors will have a direct influence on the government's ability to succeed?

The three critically important factors over which the national unity government will have less direct control, but which will have a direct bearing on its ability to succeed, are: 1) receiving sufficient economic assistance from the US and other major donors to prevent the Afghan economy, which is currently in a desperate shape, from collapsing;

2) receiving sufficient military assistance from Washington and its NATO allies beyond 2014, which should include the US administration reversing its decision to withdraw nearly all US forces by the end of 2016; and 3) Afghanistan's neighbors, Pakistan in particular, recognizing that continuing to support the Taliban and other proxies to destabilize Afghanistan is only going to hurt Pakistan and the region.

What does the fact that a power-sharing agreement was closed before the results were announced mean for the electoral process?

What diminished the election result most was not that a power-sharing agreement was announced before the announcement by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) that Ashraf Ghani won, but that the IEC was pressured into not announcing the results. After tens of millions of dollars were spent on an audit process that was brokered by the US and overseen by the UN, the final election results were never officially announced - only the outcome that Ghani won was announced.

This has further damaged the reputation of elections in Afghanistan, and I suspect many Afghans are wondering what the point of this long, expensive and politically destabilizing electoral exercise was if at the end of it all the final results are not officially announced. It's going to be very difficult in future elections, including the 2015 parliamentary elections, to mobilize voters to come out with the enthusiasm they demonstrated in 2014.

Afghanistan Ratsversammlung Loya Jirga Kabul

A Loya Jirga must be convened to amend the constitution to create the position of an executive prime minister, says Wilder

What is the new government's position on the Bilateral Security Agreement and relations with NATO likely to be?

A quick win for the new government, and an early demonstration that the National Unity Government can reach decisions, will be the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. Both Ghani and Abdullah have frequently announced publicly their intent to sign the BSA, and both recognize its importance for Afghanistan, not to mention their own political survival. I suspect that within 24-48 hours of being inaugurated, the BSA will be signed by the new president.

What are the most immediate challenges ahead for the new government?

I think the most immediate challenge for the new government will be to regain the trust of the disillusioned Afghan public, and to demonstrate that the government of national unity is indeed unified and capable of acting on critical issues confronting Afghanistan.

The best way to build the confidence of Afghans in their new government will be for the latter to appoint capable and honest officials into key government positions. A second challenge will be to rebuild the relationship with the international community, with the US in particular, which was badly damaged during the last few years of President Karzai's rule.

While signing the BSA will likely be the first step in this regard, concrete measures to reassure donors that the new government is committed to promoting a reform agenda and cracking down on rampant corruption will also be important in convincing them to continue providing the generous levels of foreign assistance necessary to keep the Afghan economy afloat.

Andrew Wilder is the vice president of South and Central Asia program at the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace.