The United States has rejected the formation of an Afghan government led by opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah parallel to that of President Ashraf Ghani. Both Ghani and Abdullah held parallel swearing-in ceremonies in Kabul on 9 March 2020 throwing the country into a major political crisis amid the ongoing peace process. US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was present at Ghani's oath-taking ceremony, while Abdullah's swearing-in took place in the presence of local leaders.
- This political crisis has been brewing since September, when the holding of the elections was marked by low participation amid threats from the Taliban and subsequent allegations of massive fraud by Ghani's rivals.
- Despite rejecting the parallel swearings-in, Pompeo appreciated "Dr. Abdullah's statement March 9 underscoring similar commitments to peace and inclusivity" in line with Ghani's statement that "discussions and negotiations will continue for the next two weeks to come to an agreement on an inclusive government which unifies the country and prioritizes peace."
- The US official also praised Ghani's announcement that he will "issue a decree March 10 on Taliban prisoner release and the formation of a national team for intra-Afghan negotiations" with the insurgents with whom the US has already reached an agreement on the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan.
- Although Ghani has so far opposed the agreement between the Taliban and Washington for the release of 5,000 insurgents, he seemed willing to yield in exchange for a reduction in violence.
How did the mess begin?
- Abdullah rejected the result of last year’s election, announced last month, alleging vote-rigging in a repeat of the 2014 elections marred by allegations of fraud.
- He decided to host his own ceremony coinciding with Ghani’s.
What does the Taliban think?
- They were amused to see two “Western puppets” desperate to get the top job at a time when Taliban insurgents control more than 40% of the country.
- “We are the real boss,” said one Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman said that the standoff was bad for prospects of peace.
What happens to 'Intra Afghan talks'?
- The latest political crisis is likely to delay the so-called intra-Afghan talks, including the Taliban and Afghan officials.
- The dual inauguration ceremonies held in Kabul were precisely the sort of distraction from Afghanistan’s peace process that the U.S. had hoped to avoid.
- Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asian Program at the Wilson Center, a U.S. think tank, said the political crisis came at the “worst possible time”.