Only hours after a shared-power agreement was struck, the election commission in Afghanistan declared Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai the winner of the country’s presidential election Sunday. Ahmadzai signed a deal with his closest opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, which will appoint him to the newly created position of government chief executive.
However, Halim Fidai, a former governor and Ahmadzai supporter said Sunday that U.N. representative Jan Kubish had told the commission not to release detailed vote tallies. The United Nations had been charged with monitoring an audit and recount of the approximately eight million votes cast in the election.
The deal represents a reality understood by the new administration. It will face enormous challenges in fighting a Taliban-led insurgency, particularly after the U.S. completely withdraws from the country. Further, the country has been struggling to pay its bills and has been experiencing a serious decline tax revenue.
An official who asked to speak on the condition on anonymity said there are growing fears within the administration as they watch the events play out it in Iraq. Many worry that a complete U.S. withdrawal will mean the new president will share the same — or even worse — fate with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
That being said, the power-sharing deal paves the way for a final approval of a bilateral security agreement that would keep a small number of U.S. troops in the country beyond this year. But beyond that point is uncertain and, Obama administration officials have hinted the president intends to withdraw all U.S. troops before the end of his term, leaving his predecessor with another potential foreign policy crisis.
“I am very happy today that both of my brothers, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, in an Afghan agreement for the benefit of this country, for the progress and development of this country, that they agreed on the structure affirming the new government of Afghanistan,” outgoing president Hamid Karzai said after the signing ceremony.
The White House released a statement offering its support of the agreement and deal.
“This agreement marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability in Afghanistan. We continue to call on all Afghans – including political, religious, and civil society leaders — to support this agreement and to come together in calling for cooperation and calm,” the statement read.
The deal and peaceful transition of power was a less-than predictable certainty. Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, and Abdullah, who draws his main support comes from the second largest ethnic Afghan group, the Tajiks, faced tumult and potential ethic tensions. Abdullah initially accused the run-off process of being rigged in Ghani’s favor, which had raised fears among the Tajiks there may be ethnic violence.
“A spark could have dealt a strong blow to the political process, if today’s deal had not happened,” Waliullah Rahmani, the director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies told Reuters. “But, we have crossed that moment.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stepped in last July and got the rivals to agree on the principle of shared power. Then, Kerry again visited Kabul in August and made repeated phone calls to the two candidates to hammer out the rest of the deal. If it lasts, the deal may be Kerry’s solely undisputed accomplishment since following Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, a tenure that was largely uneventful and accomplished little in its own right.
In a statement released Sunday moring, Secretary Kerry said the agreement was “a moment of extraordinary statesmanship. These two men have put the people of Afghanistan first, and they’ve ensured that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country begins with national unity.”
According to the terms of the deal, the president and the newly created chief executive will decide who held a near-equal number of government positions. The agreement of that sticking point was the final hurdle for the two sides, though it was unclear how the issue was resolved in the end.
Abdullah claimed he won the first round of the election that took place in April by running up a margin that exceeded 50 percent, just enough to avoid a runoff. However, the official election count found Abdullah taking closer to 45 percent of that vote. It was still a strong showing in a crowded presidential field of 10, but still not enough for an outright victory.
He also claimed he won the June runoff against Ghani, but again, the official totals declared Ghani won about 55 percent of the vote. The election commission said the official totals would be released on Sunday.
The negotiations seemed to go nowhere, leading many in Abdullah’s northern base to threaten the creation of a parallel government and push back on the already-instituted government violently. Meanwhile, Ghani says he has always maintained the position that ethnic politics in Afghanistan were such that a power-sharing deal was the only viable option.