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Afghan Unity Government Faces Difficult Times Ahead

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (L) and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (R) during a meeting with congressional leaders last year.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (L) and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (R) during a meeting with congressional leaders last year.

The leaders of Afghanistan’s national unity government have to deal with difficult months ahead both on security and political fronts.

President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah will be overseeing their administration’s response to the Taliban’s spring offensive and the defection of high-ranking officials from the government.

In recent days, a few cabinet members and advisers have resigned while the Afghan capital Kabul brims with rumors that more defections are in the pipeline.

The resignations come at a time when key security ministries such as those of defense and the interior are being overseen by "acting" ministers.

Perhaps the biggest political hurdle for the unity administration will be to successfully convene a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, of Afghan elites this fall.

This supreme decision-making body will "debate on amending the Constitution and creating a post of executive prime minister," according to a 2014 power-sharing agreement between the then-rival presidential contenders Ghani and Abdullah.

The two leaders will soon be grappling with implementing this tricky provision. They have been engaged in a continuous tug-of-war over key government appointments since assuming office in September 2014.

Mujib Rahman Rahimi, a spokesman for Abdullah, sees many challenges ahead.

"The major challenge is the lack of political will in some circles that have already announced their commitment to fulfilling the provisions of the agreement," he said. "Unfortunately, there are still some circles in Afghanistan that don’t want the electoral system to be reformed or electronic identification cards distributed so people could choose their leaders based on the principle of one person, one vote."

Rahimi says he sees electoral reforms and successful parliamentary and district council elections in October as key preconditions for holding the Loya Jirga.

Presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashemi says the Afghan leader will stand by his commitments.

"The conditions for calling a Loya Jirga are outlined in the constitution. Convening of elections is a key condition," he said. "Despite the problems, we are trying to do all that we can to bring about electoral reform and convene elections."

Nasrullah Stanikzai, a law professor at Kabul University, says the Loya Jirga will have the authority to decide on the nature of the Afghan government.

"It is within the exclusive authority of the Loya Jirga to accept a political system for Afghanistan -- whether it be a presidential, parliamentary, or mixed one," he said. "It is still premature to judge whether a parliamentary system will be endorsed by the Loya Jirga."

Afghanistan currently has a presidential system in which the president exercises most executive powers with some oversight by the bicameral parliament.

Stanikzai pointed out that by creating a formal position of prime minister, power-sharing between the country's diverse political groups and factions will be simplified.

He, however, warned that such a post might complicate decision-making and prove risky for a fragile country like Afghanistan, which is emerging from decades of war.

Wadir Safi, another Kabul University law professor, says there would be only trouble if the grand assembly creates the post of an executive prime minister.

"Based on their agreement, the chief executive has already secured significant authority. Even the president cannot carry out anything without being approved by the chief executive," he said. "This is not even common in a parliamentary system where there is a separation of powers and responsibilities between the president and the prime minister."

The main challenge, however, remains the uncertainty surrounding the country's immediate political course. No one is sure whether the Loya Jirga will be convened in time as outlined in the power-sharing agreement between Ghani and Abdullah.

Rahimi, however, says there is no other option for his administration but to fulfill the pledges it made to the Afghan people and the international community.

"Political stability and continuation of the democratic process are a must for Afghanistan. And both depend on the fulfilment of the articles of the political agreement," he concluded.