Discontent Grumbling or the Beginning of the End

Over the past days both analysts and Afghan voters have been trying to sort out what Ghani and Abdullah’s agreement will mean for the political future of Afghanistan.  One of the things that is clear is that the agreement will only work if supported by the vast majority of key political players in the country.  There is particular concern about some of Abdullah’s hardline supporters.  As these leaders, however, begin to respond to the agreement, the crucial question is whether their complaints are simply political positioning or whether they signal genuine dissent which could lead to an unraveling of the deal.  Already Governor Atta, a key Abdullah supporter, has come out stating that Ghani is not actually the president (see excerpts from an interview on Khaama here) and some parliamentarians are suggesting that Election Commission officials should actually be put on trial (see the Tolo article here).

There are two important things to keep in mind here: First of all, no one should be surprised by the complaints – they are a politically savvy move.  By complaining about the agreement, Atta is essentially reserving the right to be able to say “see, I told you it would never work” if the entire deal collapses in a few days or even after many months.  It’s actually in almost no one’s interest to warmly embrace the deal.  Not even Ghani, who won the presidency, but lost a good deal of his power during the ensuing political negotiations, is likely to praise the deal for long since there are rumors of him planning on a massive restructuring of cabinet posts and the executive branch more generally.  So political leaders, particularly those who did not get all they wanted out of these elections (and no one did), are likely to continue to grumble for a while.

That being said, this deal continues to only be as strong as those that support it.  So while these complaints may be perceived primarily as bluffs and political positioning for stronger and stronger positions, these complaints could end up having real consequences if lower level political leaders begin to lose faith in it.  For all of these actors, their local roots are much more important to them in the long term than their national aspirations.  So Abdullah is not going to do anything to alienate his power base in the Panjshir and beyond.  Similarly, if others like Atta and more minor leaders, see themselves as ceding their personal territory in some sort of power sharing arrangement, they are likely to back out quickly.  The agreement might be signed, but there are likely to still be unstable days ahead.

 

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