Afghanistan’s months-long dispute over who won last year’s presidential election has ended after the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani, and his main challenger, , agreed a power-sharing deal.
Controversially, the deal makes the former vice-president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is accused of ordering the torture and rape of a political rival, marshal of the Afghan armed forces and a senior government official.
The deal comes after heavy pressure from the US to resolve the eight-month standoff at the top of Afghan politics, to smooth the way for a new administration to start US-brokered peace talks with the Taliban.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, after the two long-term rivals refused to compromise and held a few hundred metres apart earlier this year.
Blasts in Afghanistan as presidential rivals hold oath ceremonies
Ghani is to stay on as president, but give Abdullah control of half the cabinet posts and leadership of the office managing a US-brokered peace process, where he will have five deputies.
Abdullah on Sunday said the deal was not a “privilege handout” and came at a very difficult time when the nation faces serious threats. Afghanistan is experiencing a rapid spread of coronavirus and dozens were killed in attacks by militants last week, .
“We now need to come together as a nation, strive to seek solutions that are practical,” Abdullah said.
Ghani said it was a “great day in the history of Afghanistan” as it proved that Afghans can move forward without the help of foreign mediators. “In coming days, I hope, with unity and cooperation, we can pave the way for a ceasefire and then a long term peace,” he said after signing the deal.
Photos from the signing ceremony showed the former president Hamid Karzai and a number of current and former government official present. Dostum was not among them but his son, Batur Dostum, attended.
The title to be offered to Dostum is a recognition of his political power, despite decades of scandal and longstanding accusations of human rights abuses. He still commands one of the largest, and most reliable voting blocs in the country, among his ethnic Uzbek community in northern .
Those votes have persuaded other politicians to set aside their scruples to broker deals with him. He ran on Ghani’s ticket in 2014, even though the president had previously called him a .
Then three years ago , fleeing into exile in Turkey after Ahmad Ishchi, a politician from Dostum’s home province of Jowzjan, said he was abducted, severely beaten and raped with the barrel of a rifle by Dostum’s bodyguards.
The government promised no one was above the law, following international calls for an investigation. The case is still technically open, but did not hinder Dostum’s eventual return to politics, this time as Abdullah’s running mate.
This is the second time Ghani and Abdullah have negotiated a power-sharing deal; the 2019 election was a virtual replay of the 2014 contest, down to the disputed results and mutual accusations of cheating.
Last time the then US secretary of state, John Kerry, a national unity government for Afghanistan. Under Donald Trump, Washington had made clear it was no longer interested in such heavy lifting, and the Afghan political establishment would need to find its own solution.
The main US focus in Afghanistan has been ending its war there, now nearly two decades old, and earlier this year it signed with the Taliban. That agreement was meant to pave the way for talks between the Afghans, and provide Trump with a landmark achievement going into his re-election campaign.
Efforts to start those negotiations had stalled amid the political crisis, heavy Taliban violence and disputes over prisoner exchange plans. further escalated tensions, with Ghani ordering Afghan forces back on the offensive in response.
The Taliban condemned the violence and denied any role, but no insurgent group has yet claimed the attack.
The US peace envoy said it was , without providing evidence, and urged both the Taliban and the government back to the peace talks. Afghan government officials say it is too early to apportion blame or exonerate anyone.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, welcomed the deal and said it is more important than ever that all Afghan leaders unite and work towards peace.
“We call on the Taliban to live up to their commitments, reduce violence now, take part in intra-Afghan negotiations, and make real compromises for lasting peace and the benefit of all Afghans” he said. “Nato allies and partners remain firmly committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability.”