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Kerry’s Political Theater in Afghanistan

The power sharing agreement in Afghanistan has no basis in law or popular support.

August 20, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. (Credit: U.S. Department of State -

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently intervened again to try to break the deadlock over the disputed presidential election and the vote audit that was making no progress.

Under the tutelage of Kerry, Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, reportedly agreed to a U.S.-arranged deal for the formation of a national unity government after the results are announced.

However, the two still did not agree on a formula for sharing power, including who is allowed to make ministerial appointments or the power of the executive branch versus the parliament.

Kerry’s intervention was merely political theater. The so-called power-sharing agreement is not supported by the Afghan constitution, any law or the will of the people.

One ominous sign was that Ghani recently said that, if the vote audit proved that he won the election, he would not share power.

Meanwhile, Abdullah’s powerful backer, Atta Mohammed Noor, Governor of Northern Balh Province, said that if Abdullah is not declared the president, there will be a civil uprising.

“We do not want a crisis, but we will defend the rights of our people. We will have a big civil uprising. We will occupy government buildings and institutions. We will boycott the process, and we will not recognize the next government because it will have no legitimacy,” Dawn news reported.

Noble and naive

Kerry’s attempt to arrange an accord between the two candidates, noble as it may have been in terms of intent, thus died almost as quickly as it was formed.

But the U.S. Secretary of State, perhaps for purposes of home consumption, also deluded himself. It is the custom for Asian leaders to smile politely and agree in public with a visiting senior foreign official, so as not to cause him to lose face. This is what the two candidates did during Kerry’s visit.

The two sides clearly reached no agreement. What is at stake in resolving this impasse is the fundamental nature of the system of Afghanistan’s government, as well as its legitimacy.

Kerry’s so-called power-sharing agreement that broke the deadlock even sent a troubling message — that elections and the Afghan Constitution do not matter in selecting a national leader. The fact that the Taliban share this belief clearly indicates the treacherous ground that Kerry is traveling on.

But the lack of depth of understanding of what’s really in play in Afghanistan extends well beyond John Kerry. It is a further indication of the West’s broader naiveté and inability to “manage” Afghanistan.

The bigger picture

Addullah’s protector, Attah Mohammed Noor, is a Tajik warlord and a former commander of the Northern Alliance that faced off against the Taliban in the civil war that was interrupted by the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Abdullah, half Tajik and half Pashtun, was a political leader of the Northern Alliance. His supporters correctly consider that if Ghani, a Pashtun, is declared the winner, his government will treat Tajiks, Uzbeks and ethnic groups other than Pashtuns as second-class citizens.

Here is where things get interesting — and highly troubling from a Western perspective: Ultimately, it is Pakistan that controls the Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic community and the support base of the Taliban.

It was in Pakistan’s interest to fix the election in Ghani’s favor. This outcome is key to preserve the country’s greater Pakistan defense strategy – and, crucially, guard against a possible future land attack by the Indian army.

By doing so, Pakistan hoped to defeat the Iran-India-Russian alliance that backed Abdullah. This alliance, for its part, has one clearly circumscribed goal — to keep a post-NATO Afghanistan free from dominance by Pakistan.

Beyond what was bargained for

This battle is the real backdrop of the fight over the outcome of the Afghan presidential elections. The two candidates are really just props for very different geopolitical strategies and outcomes that play out on Afghan soil – far beyond the rather limited Western imagination of what’s at stake in the election recount.

Expect to see Ghani named President before the end of August.

This will lead to a civil uprising, as Governor Noor has promised. It will likely morph into a civil war, because the election of Ghani as president makes the return of the Taliban as a major power in the country inevitable.

That, of course, is not at all what the Americans bargained for, but what they may be getting very soon.


The power sharing agreement in #Afghanistan has no basis in law or popular support.

Could civil war strike #Afghanistan once again? The next election may herald a new geopolitical battle.

#Kerry recently struck a deal in #Afghanistan, but it was more to save face than bring peace.