KABUL: Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was declared Afghanistan’s next president on Sunday, hours after signing a power-sharing deal with his rival Abdullah Abdullah that ended a prolonged standoff over the disputed result.

Allegations of massive fraud in the June 14 vote sparked a political crisis as both candidates claimed victory, paralysing the country at a key moment, with US-led troops winding down their 13-year war against the Taliban.

When the long-awaited “unity government” deal was finally signed, Mr Ghani embraced Mr Abdullah briefly at a low-key ceremony in the presidential palace that lasted less than 10 minutes.

Mr Abdullah will become “chief executive officer” (CEO), a role similar to prime minister — setting up a tricky balance of power as Afghanistan enters a new era.

Neither candidate spoke at the ceremony, and it remained unclear when they would address the nation or when the unity agreement would be officially published.

Ghani to be president, Abdullah CEO

“The Independent Elec­tion Commission declares Dr Ashraf Ghani as the president, and thus announces the end of election process,” commission chief Ahmad Yousaf Nuristani later told reporters.

“During the election process fraud was committed from all sides. That has concerned people.”

In a move likely to trigger complaints over transparency, Mr Nuristani gave no figures for the winning margin, turnout or the number of fraudulent ballot papers thrown out in a UN-super­vised audit that checked every individual vote.

Mr Ghani was widely acknowledged to be on the brink of the presidency after coming well ahead in preliminary results released before the audit began.

Under the constitution, the president wields almost total control, and the new government structure will face a major test as the security and economic outlook worsens.

“Hamid Karzai wishes the elected president Dr Ashraf Ghani and the CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah success based on the agreement between them,” said a statement from the outgoing president.

The vote count has been plagued by setbacks amid allegations of massive fraud, emboldening the Taliban militants and further weakening the aid-dependent economy.

As tensions rose in Kabul, the United Nations and United States pushed hard for a “unity government” to avoid a return to the ethnic divisions of the 1990s civil war, which ended with the Taliban taking power in 1996.

A ruling coalition between opposing camps is likely to be uneasy.

Mr Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter and foreign minister, draws his support from Tajiks and other northern ethnic groups. Mr Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, is backed by Pashtun tribes of the south and east.

“There will be two powers in the government, and it will be very difficult for them to work together,” Sediq Mansoor Ansari, an analyst and director of the Civil Societies Federation, said.

“I think the people of Afghanistan will wonder about their votes, and how their votes have been played with.”

The future of Afghanis­tan’s relationship with the US-led Nato alliance will also be high on the agenda.

According to a copy of the unity government document, the CEO could become the official prime minister in two years’ time — a major change to the strongly presidential style of government forged by Mr Karzai since 2001.

Dividing up other government posts could also create friction after the long and mercurial reign of Mr Karzai, who built up a nationwide network of patronage.

The UN’s country director Jan Kubis lauded the announcements, but warned that “for the sake of the country, it is time to quickly implement the agreement”.

After the June run-off election was engulfed in fraud allegations, the US brokered a deal in which the two candidates agreed to abide by the outcome of the audit and then form a national unity government.

Mr Abdullah later abandoned the audit, saying it was failing to clean out fraud.

He had won April’s first round, only to see Mr Ghani come from well behind and win in June.

The new administration will have to stabilise the dire economy as international aid falls, and deal with worsening unrest.

About 41,000 Nato troops remain in Afghanistan fighting the fierce Taliban insurgency alongside Afghan soldiers and police. Nato’s combat mission will end in December.

Anwar Iqbal adds from Washington: The White House welcomed the power-sharing deal in Kabul, hoping that it would end Afghanistan’s political crisis.

“We support this agreement and stand ready to work with the next administration to ensure its success,” the White House said.

“Signing this political agreement helps bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis, and restores confidence in the way forward,” the White House said in a statement.

In a separate statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry hoped that the inauguration of the new president and the appointment of his chief executive, would “open a new chapter in (in America’s) enduring partnership with Afghanistan.”

Secretary Kerry also hoped that the new Afghan government would sign the proposed bilateral security agreement with the United States and Nato.

The outgoing president, Mr Karzai, refused to sign the agreement saying that it should be signed by the country’s next leader.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd , 2014


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