One presidency, two inaugurations: Afghanistan’s election bickering threatens peace process

Afghanistan’s incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah plan parallel inaugurations, possibly hampering intra-Afghan talks

FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (L) and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (R) participate in a family photo at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland July 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
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Afghanistan is set for more political uncertainty as two rival administrations prepare to swear themselves in on Monday in a move that that could delay the start of inter-Afghan talks to end a two-decade conflict with the Taliban.

Several government officials told The National the ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’, scheduled for March 10 could be postponed and Afghanistan’s incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah declared parallel inaugurations on March 9.

After a five-month delay, Afghanistan’s independent election commission in February announced Mr Ghani to be President for a second five-year term, winning with 50.64 per cent of the vote.

Dr Abdullah, who came second with 39.5 per cent, declared the results fraudulent and announced himself the true winner.

“We consider the final results baseless, illegal, and we do not accept it,” he said. Protests broke out across the country, with some defending Ghani and others Abdullah, and with Dr Abdullah declaring he would set up an “inclusive government.”

Everything you need to know about the Afghan deal

Everything you need to know about the Afghan deal

While the inauguration was scheduled for immediately after the announcement, the Afghan government agreed to postpone it until after a deal was signed between the US and the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha, paving the way towards peace in the country that has been at war for the past four decades.

Presidential inaugurations in Afghanistan are usually held within 30 days of the election announcement.

US peace envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, welcomed the decision to postpone, saying that it “will allow time for necessary consultations so that the best interests of Afghanistan and its people are reflected and preserved by the new government.”

About 9.6 million people had registered to vote in the 28 September 2019 elections, the country's Independent Election Commission said, but many voiced fears over potential attacks and said they didn’t believe the government could provide a fair, transparent process.

Voter turnout was as low as 1.8 million. Insurgent attacks - including explosions and rockets - caused dozens of casualties as Afghans headed to the polls. Around 72,000 troops were put in place to protect voters.

Mr Ghani's spokesperson, Sediq Sediqqi, told The National on Sunday "the election season is over and President-elect Ghani was declared lawful winner by the independent election commission of Afghanistan, based on the outcome of the election and country's constitution."

A guest list with Afghan and international attendees has been finalised by the palace, Mr Seddiqi said.

Dr Abdullah’s deputy spokesperson, Omid Maisam, said that the same was true for their parallel ceremony. “The elders of the country will participate. We also invited our international colleagues and they will also participate in the ceremony of the inclusive government.”

Allegations of fraud already led to a political crisis in 2014, when a power-sharing deal was brokered between the two rivals that saw Mr Ghani take on the role as President, and Dr Abdullah that as Chief Executive. Rivalries and disputes have marred the relationship between the two politicians.

Disagreements between the two men have worried many, especially before direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, referred to as the ‘intra’-Afghan dialogue.’ Mr Ghani and Dr Abdullah reportedly could not agree on a list of candidates to participate in the direct negotiations.