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With A Power-sharing Agreement In Sight, Afghan Political Feud Expected To End

FILE: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah during a NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016.

Following months of intense political squabbling Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his top political rival former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah are now set to conclude another power-sharing agreement.

The compromise long sought by the United States and other Western allies of Kabul might resolve some disagreements among Afghan political leaders and unite them in negotiating peace with the Taliban. But it is overshadowed by rising violence following some of the most violent attacks targeting civilians in a maternity hospital and a funeral, which prompted Ghani to order his forces to go on an offensive against the Taliban.

Afghan presidential spokesman Sediqi Seddiqi says both sides have agreed on some key points.

"Several principles in this agreement have been agreed upon. And God willing, we will soon speak about the details of the agreement,” he told reporters in Kabul on May 12.

While carefully avoiding to divulge the details and some of the still contentious points, Siddiqi said that the agreement will see Abdullah’s supporters return to the cabinet.

Ghani’s supporters are hinting that unlike their 2014 power-sharing agreement brokered by then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Abdullah is unlikely to get a major executive role not mentioned in the constitution. Ghani and Abdullah constantly bickered over appointments and authority while partnering in National Unity Government for five years.

Their bitter rivalry has hampered efforts to reach a compromise. “There are still issues that need to be finalized. The main purpose of this political agreement is to resolve the current political challenge that has had a negative impact on governance,” Sediqi said while alluding to still unresolved issues.

On May 11, Azizullah Fazly, a senior advisor to the newly established state ministry for peace, hinted that the agreement will be concluded this week. “The political differences existing inside the country are coming to an end,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Sarwar Danesh, Afghanistan's second vice president, recently said that Abdullah would be “taking the lead role in the high reconciliation council”. Ghani had publicly offered the post to Abdullah in early April saying that Abdullah’s “protocol can be the protocol of a vice president, his security, his budget, his decision-making, all can be discussed. We have full flexibility”.

In a sign that months of intense negotiations have been fruitful. Abdullah Abdullah is also sounding positive about resolving the political impasse. “We have made progress in negotiations and reached a tentative agreement on a range of principles. Work on details is underway to finalize the agreement,” he tweeted on May 1.

Requesting anonymity because of political sensitivities, a senior aid to Abdullah told Radio Free Afghanistan that the draft potential agreement is comprised of at least four main points. He claimed that these include the formation of the high state council that will incorporate political elites who will have a consultative role on key issues of the country. In what can prove to be a contentious point, he said that draft agreement foresees establishing an executive prime ministerial position will focus on the peace process, equal power-sharing and fundamental reforms namely electoral reforms.

The aid said that the executive prime minister will oversee all peace-related issues as well as seeking to attract international aid in the post-reconciliation environment.

He said that promoting General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ghani's former first vice president, to the rank of field marshal is also part of the draft. Dostum, a former communist general has considerable influence among Afghanistan’s Uzbek minority. He is accused of human rights abuses including torturing political rivals.

If finalized, the agreement would last until the end of the current government’s five-year term, the source said.

Washington has been publicly pushing for such a compromise since December after Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission declared Ghani the winner of the September 28 presidential election. Abdullah refused to accept the result, declared himself winner and announced the formation of a parallel “inclusive government”.

Days after the U.S. and Taliban signed a peace deal on February 29, Abdullah and Ghani held rival inauguration ceremonies in Kabul on March 9. Two weeks later U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Kabul to urge a compromise.

“The United States is disappointed in them [Ghani & Abdullah] and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests,” a March 23 statement by the State Department said after Pompeo’s meetings with the Afghan leaders failed to deliver a deal. “[They] have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens.”

Washington, however, hinted that Afghan leaders can reclaim $2 billion in aid cut if they compromise. “Should Afghan leaders choose to form an inclusive government that can provide security and participates in the peace process, the United States is prepared to support these efforts and revisit the reviews initiated today,” the statement concluded.

The dispute also overshadowed the U.S. Taliban agreement and contributed to preventing direct talks between the Taliban and representatives of the Islamic Republic – the current political system backed by Ghani, Abdullah and a host of other leaders and their factions.

“When there is political turmoil and a political conflict between the two doctors, Ghani and Abdullah, a united group cannot be formed in Afghanistan to talk with the Taliban,” Nilofar Sakhi, a Washington based Afghan political expert, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I don’t think the intra-Afghan peace talks can begin without first concluding this political conflict.”

Facing rising insecurity and the coronavirus pandemic, many Afghans want their leaders to swiftly settle their differences.

"Our expectation from Ghani and Abdullah is that this tension must be resolved so that the lost hope in the hearts of every young person is restored,” Shamsia Saadat, a 26-year-old female resident of Kabul, told Radio Free Afghanistan.