KABUL: Afghanistan’s new government was caught in political deadlock on Tuesday amid infighting over Cabinet choices between President Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, with whom the president shares power under a deal struck in May.
The stalemate occurred after the Afghan parliament urged the government to replace caretaker ministers who had been in office for years.
“Nowhere in the world can you find a caretaker Cabinet that has lasted for years, except in Afghanistan. It is a mockery here; it has created mistrust among people,” Ali Akbar Qasimi, a lawmaker from Ghazni province, told Arab News on Tuesday.
He added that prolonged delays would have a negative impact on people.
“Insecurity has increased, crime has soared, the economy is getting worse, and there is the coronavirus disease. The situation generally is very worrying,” he said.
Both Ghani and Abdullah were arch-rivals during the presidential elections in 2014 and in September last year, which saw a record low turnout amid complaints of election fraud.
Ghani was declared the winner in March this year, leading Abdullah to protest and announce a parallel government, further deepening months of political dispute and throwing the future of the country into more doubt.
The tension prompted the US to intervene and mediate, following the agreement of a deal with the Taliban in late February to withdraw US troops by spring 2021, but after Washington failed reach a consensu between the two leaders, Afghan figures stepped in.
They finally struck a deal in May based on which Ghani would retain the presidency and Abdullah would lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, which includes facilitating talks with the Taliban.
However, both would share power, albeit in a slightly different format to the previous national unity government which was formed in 2014 under a US-brokered deal, when Ghani became president and Abdullah assumed the role of the country’s chief executive.
Experts say the current debacle has shattered hopes that the current administration would fare better than the previous one, whose routine squabbles enabled the Taliban to gain ground.
Freshta Karim, a civil society activist, wrote that a lack of progress on the formation of a fully functioning government had “reduced to a minimum the expectation of people … about the peace process.”
Abdullah has argued that since he had the backing of some factional and ethnic leaders during the elections, he had to take into consideration their choices for the Cabinet, in addition to pushing for his own nominees.
One of the most controversial figures, rejected by Ghani, is the current economy minister, Mustafa Mastoor, who is Abdullah’s nephew and who he picked to lead the State Ministry of Peace Affairs, an anonymous presidential palace source told Arab News.
The source also rejected the perception that Abdullah would “have the power to also introduce governors, deputy heads of some key ministries and departments.”
Meanwhile, Sediq Seddiqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said one of the reasons for the delay in sending a full list of Cabinet members to parliament for approval was because Abdullah’s nominees were not fit for ministerial positions.
“The president is keen that individuals introduced by Dr. Abdullah be ones who have political weight and can ensure political stability and be acceptable to the people,” he told Arab News.
Hamidullah Tokhi, a pro-Abdullah MP, accused Ghani of violating the deal.
“He is not letting Abdullah’s choices for governors take over. The problem has been created by the palace,” he told Arab News, adding that with parliament in recession from July 20 for a month and a half, having a new Cabinet in place would be further delayed even if the two leaders agree on candidates.
Experts say Ghani has been caught in a “power play,” and is seeking to avoid repeating past mistakes.
“Ghani was seeking to show his current administration is not like the last one, and is downplaying Abdullah’s role. It is a classic power play of Afghan politics. However, the power play hinders and diverts the attention from real priorities of insecurity, crimes,” Zabihullah Pakteen, an analyst, told Arab News.
He added that the priority, for both leaders, should be to address the pressing issue of the peace process and the US troop departure in 2021.
“The aim on both sides is grabbing a bigger chunk of government. This overshadows the peace process to a great extent, as the clock for the US withdrawal is ticking,” he said.