Afghan Presidential Rivals Finally Agree on Power-Sharing Deal


Abdullah Abdullah   Ashraf GhaniThe two candidates for president of Afghanistan have agreed on a power-sharing deal that will give the losing candidate substantial influence in the next government, initialing the American-brokered deal Saturday night and promising to sign it at a formal ceremony on Sunday.

The deal promised an end at last to the tumultuous, five-month-long aftermath of the Afghan presidential elections, although previous settlements have repeatedly collapsed at the last minute despite the candidates’ promises. Under the deal, the top vote-getter, Ashraf Ghani, would become president but would grant significant powers to the loser, Abdullah Abdullah, making Mr. Abdullah effectively a prime minister, according to a draft of the four-page agreement obtained by The New York Times and authenticated by Western diplomats and campaign officials.

The agreement on forming a national unity government was completed last Sunday, with the two candidates planning to sign it last Tuesday. At the last minute, however, Mr. Abdullah said he would sign only if the results of an audit of the election, determining the final tally for each candidate, were not publicly released.

He has insisted that the results were so tainted by fraud that they should never be made public.

An Abdullah campaign official, Western diplomats and President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, all confirmed the deal had been initialed and would be formally signed Sunday.

A senior Obama administration official said an important breakthrough came on Wednesday when Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Mr. Abdullah during a meeting with 30 of his aides, and addressed them all over a speaker phone.

“If you don’t come to agreement now, today, the possibilities for Afghanistan will become very difficult, if not dangerous,” Mr. Kerry said, according to the account by the American official. “I really need to emphasize to you that if you do not have an agreement, if you do not move to a unity government, the United States will not be able to support Afghanistan.”

The official said that “the purpose of the call was to drive home to Abdullah’s more militant supporters that the deal in front of them was the best deal they were going to get and that there would be consequences in rejecting it.”

Still, as recently as Saturday, aides to Mr. Abdullah said he would never agree to the deal if the election commission released the results of its audit of the vote, and the totals for each candidate. It was not immediately clear whether the two sides reached a compromise on that issue, but the candidates were expected to formally sign the deal at noon on Sunday, at the presidential palace, the American official said.

Noor Ahmad Noor, a spokesman for the country’s Independent Election Commission, which conducted the audit under United Nations supervision, had said the results would be announced Sunday morning whether the candidates agreed to their release or not.

Mr. Abdullah’s campaign spokesman Muslim Saadat confirmed on Saturday that the details of a deal on a government had been agreed to by both campaigns. “The main sticking point is the announcement of the results,” Mr. Saadat said. “The results of the I.E.C. will not have legitimacy since the audit failed to separate fraudulent votes from legitimate ones.” Later he confirmed both candidates had reached agreement, but did not explain how the issue of releasing the vote totals had been resolved.

The draft agreement obtained by The Times has changed slightly since it was written, according to diplomats and campaign officials, but the key points are unaltered in the latest version initialed Saturday night. The agreement gives substantial powers to the newly created position of chief executive officer, defining it as having “the functions of an executive prime minister.”

The agreement also creates a council of ministers, headed by the chief executive and including two deputies and all cabinet ministers. “The Council of Ministers will implement the executive affairs of the Government,” the agreement states. In addition, while the president would head his cabinet, which also includes the ministers, “The CEO will be responsible for managing the Cabinet’s implementation of government policies, and will report on progress to the President directly and in the Cabinet.”

Another clause calls for “parity in the selection of personnel between the President and the CEO at the level of head of key security and economic institutions, and independent directorates.”

In negotiations between the two campaigns, Mr. Abdullah’s side pushed for the chief executive to be given real powers, and the draft agreement appears to have granted that.

But it remains to be seen how workable such a hybrid government would be. Its difficulties were noted in a catchall clause in the agreement: “The relationship between the President and the CEO cannot be described solely and entirely by this agreement, but must be defined by the commitment of both sides to partnership, collegiality, collaboration, and most importantly responsibility to the people of Afghanistan.”

More votes were recorded in the June 14 runoff than in the first election on April 6, which Mr. Abdullah won handily but without the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff. Preliminary results from the runoff named Mr. Ghani the winner by a large margin.

The Abdullah campaign responded by accusing Mr. Ghani of industrial-scale fraud supported by the incumbent president, Mr. Karzai. At one point there were fears that the dispute could end in violence, with Mr. Abdullah’ssupporters threatening to create a parallel government.

Mr. Kerry then came to Kabul to chair talks on the crisis, and came up with the solution of a national unity government with the losing candidate assuming the post of chief executive. Neither the unity government nor the positions created for it have a basis in the constitution of Afghanistan or its election law.

In his Wednesday call to Mr. Abdullah and his top aides, his 30th to top Afghan officials since June 14, Mr. Kerry related to them how he had decided not to contest controversial election results in Ohio in 2004, which tipped the election in George Bush’s favor. “It was hard to do and many of my people were mad at me, but it was the right thing to do for the country,” Mr. Kerry said, according to the senior official. “This is a rare win for United States diplomacy in Afghanistan,” he said.

NY Times