Will Ghani and Abdullah’s Rivalry Bring Down Afghanistan’s Unity Government?

Will Ghani and Abdullah’s Rivalry Bring Down Afghanistan’s Unity Government?
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, right, and chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, left, at the NATO summit, Warsaw, Poland, July 9, 2016 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

With the two-year anniversary of Afghanistan’s national unity government approaching in September, long-simmering tensions between President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, have broken out into the open. In mid-August remarks to his supporters, Abdullah made his most public and direct complaints to date, calling Ghani unfit for the presidency. He said that his counsel was being ignored by Ghani, his position within the government was being marginalized, and his demands for reforms were going unmet. Although the two leaders have since met one-on-one and attended Afghanistan’s Independence Day celebrations together on Aug. 17, the complicated power-sharing balance within the government, and with its critics on the outside, shows little sign of being resolved anytime soon.

The U.S.-brokered agreement that formed the national unity government and ended a dispute over the outcome of Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential elections set up an ambitious program of reform, little of which has been accomplished so far. In his first official act upon taking office, Ghani appointed his former electoral rival Abdullah as chief executive, a new position. Abdullah often accompanies Ghani on state visits, but otherwise he appears to have made limited progress at integrating himself into government decision-making chains. Over the past two years, the two leaders have fought—up until now largely behind the scenes—over almost all major Cabinet appointments and control of the process of reforming Afghanistan’s electoral law and administration.

A series of committees have been established and re-established to propose reforms to the electoral system. But those proposals have been blocked by the incumbent parliament—whose term expired in June 2015 and which has shown little incentive to set up elections for a new parliament soon—and by election administrators who dispute Abdullah’s allegations of systemic fraud in the 2014 vote. Abdullah and his supporters also lay blame on the presidency for responding slowly to the deadlock over reforms. Although elections are officially scheduled to take place this October, there are few plans or financing in place to hold them this year; the basic boundaries for district council elections and the process for registering voters with a national ID card also remain disputed. Elections are a precursor to holding a constitutional Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly, which the national unity agreement committed to in order to amend the constitution and formalize the chief executive as an “executive prime minister.”

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review