After more than a year, two rounds of voting and a bitterly contested audit of votes, Ashraf Ghani has been named president-elect, while his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, has agreed to share power, presumably in a newly created executive CEO position. Judy Woodruff speaks with NPR’s Sean Carberry from Kabul for details of the deal and what it means for the United States.
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The entire process took more than a year, two elections, a bitterly contested audit of votes and hand-holding by the United States, but Afghanistan finally has a new leader to replace Hamid Karzai.
President-elect Ashraf Ghani will lead the nation after entering a power-sharing agreement over the weekend with his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah.
Sean Carberry of NPR has been covering the drawn-out drama throughout. I spoke with him a short ago about how the deal came about and what it means for Afghanistan and the United States.
Sean Carberry, welcome.
First of all, is this real? We were told once before they had a deal, and it turned out they didn’t. And if it is, what made the difference?
Well, yes, this one is real.
They did sit down yesterday and signed the documents together. So it’s finalized. After that, the election commission did announce that Ashraf Ghani will be the next president. And it is not entirely clear what finally broke through. There had been increasing pressure by the U.S. over the last couple of weeks, saying that if they didn’t reach a deal, it was putting U.S. support in jeopardy.
So, that was certainly one element of pressure. But the two candidates had been continuing negotiations and had gotten down to a few key details and, within the last week, seemed to finally break through, get those details sorted out. They signed a deal, and this is going forward at this point.
So what is the arrangement? What responsibilities will each of them have?
Well, so, Ashraf Ghani will be the president. This new agreement, this national unity government agreement creates a new position of executive CEO.
It’s not quite as powerful as a prime minister, but it still has a fair amount of executive powers. The CEO will sit on the national security council, will chair a cabinet of ministers meet on a weekly basis, will have other powers. So it is a significantly empowered position.
Now, Abdullah Abdullah presumably will take that position, but it’s up to him to nominate someone for that position. He’s yet to make an announcement who he will nominate for that position. In addition, this deal does divide up some of the national security posts, some of the key cabinet positions. So it is a significant sharing of power between the Abdullah and Ghani camps.
What about their respective political coalitions, the powerful figures supporting each one of them? Are they on board with this?
Apparently, they are at this point, because that seemed to be one of the main sticking points over the last month or so, was that powerful backers of both candidates were resisting to some of the terms of the agreement.
Particularly on Abdullah’s, he had some very vocal supporters who were threatening to go outside the deal, who were threatening to launch protests, occupy government buildings if the terms were not met. And one of the most powerful backers of Abdullah did release a statement since the deal was signed saying that he supports it.
So it does appear that they have brought on board all of their backers. Now, the question remains, will they stay on board? Because there are still a lot of internal rivalries here. Abdullah and Ghani don’t necessarily have the greatest history of a working relationship. There have been tension and animosities between them over the years. Certainly, some of their backers don’t get along with each other.
So this is one of the main concerns. They have signed a deal for now, but how long will this deal last? Will there be splintering in the future once they get into the real nuts and bolts of putting this government together and trying to govern?
And, Sean, that was another question I had is, will it last? I saw a Taliban statement today or yesterday calling it a sham. And finally, importantly, effect of this on the United States, which still has troops in Afghanistan?
The Taliban have said that they will continue to fight, they will oppose this new government. Both Abdullah and Ghani have said that they want to try to reach out to the Taliban. They do recognize that there will not be a military solution here. There has to be a political solution. But, again, it does get back to this question of whether or not this national unity government can move forward, can govern, can reform.
Or will it spend a lot of its time dealing with political infighting and ongoing power struggles among these two camps that are coming together now?
And what about the effect on the U.S.?
Well, the U.S. has said that they are happy with this deal. They say it’s a new chapter for U.S.-Afghan relations. And they expect that, within 48 hours of the inauguration of President Ghani, he will sign a security agreement with the U.S. that will allow troops to stay beyond the end of this year.
So the U.S. is praising this and looking forward to a new chapter in relations with Afghanistan.
Sean Carberry, reporting for us from Afghanistan, thank you.
You’re welcome, Judy.