KABUL: Hopes of an Afghan peace deal between the US and the Taliban were on Wednesday balanced on a knife edge after an official announcement of Ashraf Ghani’s victory in last year’s presidential polls threatened to throw Afghanistan into further political turmoil.
Following the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) verdict on Tuesday revealing that incumbent president Ghani had secured nearly 51 percent of votes in the highly disputed September poll, his arch-rival Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah slammed the result as invalid and threatened to form his own government.
Experts now fear “dire consequences” from a potential new political crisis in the country that could delay a peace agreement expected to be signed between US and Taliban officials over the coming days.
The Taliban described the election verdict as “unlawful” with no “legal basis” and “in conflict with the contents of the ongoing peace process while keeping in mind the current sensitive circumstances of the Afghan issue.”
Analyst Zubair Shafiqi said the development would “slow down the process of peace in Afghanistan and had put the US and Taliban talks on a course of unknown track.”
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Soon after Ghani’s win was confirmed, Abdullah – accompanied by hundreds of his supporters at his official palace adjacent to the presidential palace in Kabul – rejected the verdict, alleging that the IEC had worked in Ghani’s favor.
Ghani and Abdullah have been at loggerheads ever since they first assumed power in a joint national unity government formed through a US-brokered deal following the disputed 2014 election.
Analysts said Abdullah’s threat to form a separate government did not bode well for the future.
“I believe it is the beginning of another crisis,” Tabish Forugh, an Afghan political analyst told Arab News. “The more it continues, the more it will affect the legitimacy of the government’s mandate. The crisis will have dire consequences for stability, the economy, and the social cohesion of Afghan society,” he said.
The latest development came as US and Taliban representatives inched closer to signing an agreement that would pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue and initiate the departure of US troops from the country.
Foreign powers with troops in Afghanistan and who have funded the polls, along with other countries in the region, have remained tight-lipped on the election verdict, with few having congratulated Ghani on his re-election which gives him another five years in office.
Leading daily Afghan newspaper, Hasht e Subh, said the silence from world leaders was due to the “fragile political situation in Afghanistan,” while the Etilaat Roz paper reported that “Afghanistan was going through tough days.”
Shafiqi said: “Afghanistan is facing a very hard situation and might face further and complicated crises.”
The September presidential election was held after being delayed twice because of the US and Taliban talks and witnessed the lowest turnout at Afghan polling stations since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. Just over 1.8 million out of more than 9.6 million eligible voters participated in the ballot which was marred by irregularities, fraud and deadly Taliban attacks.
According to the IEC’s results, Ghani received more than 900,000 of the total votes cast.
Rahmatullah Nabil, a former spy chief and one of the presidential candidates, said in a statement on Wednesday that he considered Ghani’s win to be the “death of democracy in Afghanistan. It’s also the start of a new chapter of hard crises for Afghanistan in the fields of security, the economy, and politically and socially.”
Shafiqi and Forugh believe that the international community, particularly the US, will want a swift end to the prevailing tensions and will be pushing Ghani and Abdullah to form a broad-based government soon. “Otherwise, it will be a weak government which will have to be controlled by outsiders,” Shafiqi said.
Ghani’s supporters, however, said that there was no cause for concern. Atta Nasib, a close aide of Ghani, told Arab News: “The future is certain. There is one president and he is sitting in the ARG (presidential palace). The rest are hungover.”