Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday, ending months-long political uncertainty and raising hopes it will help find a way out of the endless conflict. Unlike a similar 2014 deal that fai
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday, ending months-long political uncertainty and raising hopes it will help find a way out of the endless conflict. Unlike a similar 2014 deal that failed, this one is expected to hold in view of the prevailing situation. The breakthrough comes at time Afghanistan faces resurgence of militant violence, rapid spread of coronavirus, a deepening economic crisis; and more importantly, the US' impatience with their bickering. Although President Ghani claimed at the signing ceremony that the deal was reached without international mediation, there is little doubt that the push came from the US. Not long ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had threatened to cut off $1 billion of aid if they did not resolve their feud. His office has now welcomed the deal, saying he had told both leaders "that the priority for the United States remains a political settlement to end the conflict."
Notably, the agreement the US reached with the Taliban last February in Doha was to end America's longest war in exchange for a guarantee that the Afghan soil will not be allowed to be used by terrorist groups to threaten the security of the US and its allies. As some commentators have pointed out, it was not a peace accord but an agreement for withdrawal of US forces. Peace, as Pompeo has reiterated, was to be negotiated through intra-Afghan dialogue - which was to begin in March. But the process remained stalled due to political wrangling between the ruling factions. It is good to note that the aside from having equal representation in the cabinet, Abdullah Abdullah now is to lead the National Reconciliation High Commission. Although the Taliban had participated in intra-Afghan talks hosted by Moscow and Doha, they refused to hold direct negotiations with the Afghan government, calling it an American puppet. They have since changed tack. In a recent article he wrote for the New York Times, senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani said, "if we can reach an agreement with a foreign enemy, we must be able to resolve intra-Afghan disagreement through talks."
But the process did not take off. The ruling groups kept fighting for power. That along with the government foot-dragging on prisoner release, which formed part of the US-Taliban agreement, has given an excuse to the Taliban to ratchet up violence. They do not seem to be particularly pushed to start negotiations, aware of the fact that the US has decided to leave. It is a decisive moment for all concerned. Islamabad's Foreign Office has issued a statement rightly emphasizing that it is critical that the intra-Afghan negotiations commenced at the earliest, culminating in a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan. Not only has the Ghani-Abdullah power-sharing deal ended Kabul's unfortunate political impasse, it has given birth to some legitimate hopes for unity to brighten this landlocked country's peace prospects.