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Debate over interim government in Afghanistan

Mohammad Jamil

ON Wednesday, Pakistan’s Foreign Office in a statement said: “PM Imran Khan’s comments on Afghanistan have been reported out of context in the media, leading to unwarranted reaction from various quarters”. Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry in a statement said: “The statements about the peace process and the establishment of an interim government are deemed as an obvious example of Pakistan’s interventional policy and disrespect to the national sovereignty and determination of the people of Afghanistan.” In a tweet, US Special Envoy for Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad had also criticised the Prime Minister’s reported comments. He said, “While Pakistan has made constructive contribution on the Afghan Peace Process, PM Khan’s comments did not”. He added that the future of Afghanistan is for Afghans, and only Afghans are to decide. But even presidential candidate Haneef Atmar also demanded interim setup before elections to ensure their transparency.
When the US special envoy on reconciliation talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, visited India in January 2019, New Delhi told him that it (India) was not in favour of an interim government in Kabul and that any continuation of its economic largesse will depend on the ground situation in Afghanistan. India’s position on the presidential elections is certainly an intervention in the current scenario for Afghan political parties. Presidential candidate and former National Security Advisor Mohammad Haneef Atmar on Monday said the term of the National Unity Government – led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah – will not have legitimacy after May 22 and that Afghans have reached a consensus about this. The National Unity Government’s (NUG) was established based on an agreement between Ghani and Abdullah in September 2014 after controversial elections. The agreement on the NUG was brokered by former US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Addressing a ceremony on former Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim’s death anniversary in Balkh, Atmar claimed that government is hindering the peace talks with the Taliban. “We are not seeking to create a power vacuum but for sure we want sincere efforts for peace and elections, not a hindrance to the processes. Therefore, establishing an interim government based on the Constitution will be our top priority so that we assure our nation that peace and elections are coming,” Atmar added. Atta Mohammad Noor, the leader of Jamiat-e-Islami Party and former Governor of Balkh, also called the National Unity Government illegitimate after May 22 and said they will stand against government after its term is completed. “Mr. President (Ashraf Ghani) has always said that he will not work even for one day after May 22… Now, we are telling him that we will not let you be President after May 22,” Noor reiterated.
President Ashraf Ghani has lost the support of the elements of former Northern Alliance. After the last presidential election, Afghanistan’s presidential contenders had signed an agreement to form unity government with former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani as President and Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive. Both of them had taken oath to end months-long standoff over a disputed runoff vote. Abdullah Abdullah had rejected the results in the runoff election, and had demanded audit and vote count. During the process of vote-recount and UN-supervised audit, he had even alleged fraud in the audit. Realizing that there could be turmoil and civil war in Afghanistan and also cajoling by the US, he declared that he would accept Ashraf Ghani as President. It was due to the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who persuaded both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to accept US-backed compromise after difficult negotiations.
According to the Constitution, President has all constitutional powers including nomination and formation of cabinet, but arrangement had been made whereby CEO will share some decision-making power with the President. It was expected that CEO will be designated as Prime Minister through a constitutional amendment after amendment to the Constitution. It has to be mentioned that the Article 71 of the Constitution states: “The government is formed of the ministers and is headed by the President,” while the National Unity Government was formed beyond the provisions of Afghan Constitution. With the rift between the partners of Unity Government and intensified Taliban attacks, the country is adrift to more uncertainty, chaos and anarchy. In an August 11, 2016 speech in Kabul, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah had criticized President Ashraf Ghani for taking unilateral decisions on various issues including the appointment of Ministers.
There is a perception that the Taliban would not hold talks with the Afghan Government headed by Dr Ashraf Ghani, as the Taliban leadership believed that it had problem with Northern Alliance elements, and would prefer to sort out with them rather than Dr Ashraf Ghani. Late Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum had created the United Front (Northern Alliance) against the Taliban that were preparing offensives against the remaining areas under the control of Massoud and those under the control of Dostum. After 9/11, when the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, they had supported the invasion and had the lion’s share in the Afghan Government led by Hamid Karzai. Anyhow, many issues have been settled during the talks between the US and the Taliban, and there is a possibility that question of interim government would figure in the talks. After all Hanif Atmar, Atta Noor and the Taliban are very much Afghans, irrespective of their ethnicity.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.