he Afghan Independent Election Commission’s much-delayed announcement that President Ashraf Ghani is the winner of the September 28 Presidential election is expected to deepen the political crisis in the war-torn country. That it took almost five months to declare the official results — he secured a narrow victory with 50.64% of votes against his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah’s 39.52% — itself points to the seriousness of the crisis. Mr. Abdullah has called the results fraudulent and vowed to form a parallel government. If he does so, it would undermine the already feeble Afghan administration whose writ does not stretch beyond the main urban centres. For the Afghan voter, this is a déjà vu moment.
Five years ago, Mr. Ghani was declared winner of the election but Mr. Abdullah refused to accept the result. The then U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, brokered a power-sharing agreement, which allowed Mr. Ghani to take over the presidency and made Mr. Abdullah the government Chief Executive.
And throughout the five years, they were at odds with each other, while the Taliban steadily expanded across the country’s hinterlands and stepped up attacks on its city centres. Unsurprisingly, only less than a fourth of registered voters turned up in September, raising questions about faith in the whole exercise.
Worse, the infighting comes at a time when the U.S. is near a Taliban agreement. Initial reports suggest that U.S. President Trump has given the go-ahead to its signing if the insurgents reduce violence for a seven-day test period. The deal would see the U.S.’s Afghan troop pullback, winding down America’s longest war and leaving the Taliban and the Afghan government to start direct talks for a final settlement.
The problem, however, is that even with an American troops presence, the Afghan government had never been able to take control of the security situation. The U.S. excluded the government from its direct talks with the Taliban as the insurgents do not see the government as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers. U.S. withdrawal would invariably weaken the government, aiding the Taliban even before the talks start. The disputed poll results and chronic political infighting would weaken the administration further.
How will the government defend the Constitution or any of the post-Taliban achievements if it is going to negotiate with a resurgent Taliban from a position of such weakness? All involved parties in the conflict seem to be missing the big picture. The U.S. just wants to get out of a lost war. Mr. Ghani wants to retain his presidency. Mr. Abdullah may want to make sure there is power sharing with the Opposition. What is lost in these narrow, self-interest-driven moves is the collective quest for defeating the extremists and rebuilding Afghanistan.