Afghanistan’s Dueling Leaders to Hold Parallel Inaugurations

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) — Afghanistan’s two rival leaders were preparing to hold parallel presidential inaugurations Monday, after they failed to reach a deal in the face of a unified and resurgent Taliban.

The spat has raised fears for Afghanistan’s fragile democracy as the United States prepares to leave the country under an agreement struck last month to end America’s longest war.

Polls were held in September and incumbent Ashraf Ghani was declared to have won a second term in February after repeated delays and accusations of voter fraud, sparking a furious response by former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who vowed to form his own parallel government.

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah looks at his phone during a Dec. 22, 2019, press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Last-minute talks extended late into the night Sunday as the two sides sought to broker an agreement.

But by Monday morning, there was little indication a solution had been found, with Ghani’s spokesman announcing only that his inauguration would be delayed by several hours.

Abdullah also postponed his ceremony until the afternoon, with a member of his campaign staff telling supporters that if Ghani proceeded “with his inauguration, we will definitely go ahead with ours.”

Washington had warned that the bickering posed a risk to the U.S. withdrawal deal, which requires the Taliban to hold talks with Kabul.

Widening divisions among Afghan politicians would leave the Taliban with the upper hand in those negotiations.

Their game of thrones has left many Afghans despairing for their country.

“It is impossible to have two presidents in one country,” said Ahmad Jawed, 22, who urged the men “to put their personal interests aside and only think of their country instead of fighting for power.”

He said that “instead of holding oath-taking ceremonies they should talk to each other to find a solution.”

Afghans have shown little enthusiasm for Abdullah, Ghani or the election in general. Most of them abstained in last year’s lackluster poll that saw candidates pitch few ideas or policies.

Unemployment is high, and even university graduates like Jawed are struggling to find work, while violence has continued unabated, except during a weeklong partial truce before the U.S.-Taliban deal.

In the deadliest attack to hit Afghanistan in weeks, Islamic State gunmen shot dead 32 people and wounded dozens of others at a political rally in Kabul on Friday.

The Taliban, who have slammed the electoral process as “a fake and foreign-run” affair, have also ramped up attacks on Afghan forces and civilians.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the competing ceremonies show that “nothing is more important to the slaves than their personal interests.”

The ceremonies will take place under heightened security, with road closures and multiple checkpoints set up in Kabul hours before the two men were to be sworn in.

Dozens of supporters waited at two venues inside the grounds of the presidential palace, where both men were expected to hold their ceremonies.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, inspects an honor guard in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 29, 2019.  (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, Pool)

Experts say the infighting is likely to cost the government, which already is under pressure after being shut out of the Doha negotiations for the U.S.-Taliban deal.

According to the agreement signed in Qatar, foreign troops will withdraw from Afghanistan in 14 months, in return for security commitments from the Taliban and a pledge to hold talks with Kabul.

Political analyst Atta Noori said the squabbling would “gravely affect the government’s position in the upcoming intra-Afghan talks.”

“Unity is the only way (forward) if they want to win on the negotiating table,” he said.

The prolonged political crisis has brought back memories of the angrily contested 2014 election, which also saw Ghani declared the winner.

Abdullah’s supporters held violent demonstrations at the time before the U.S. finally intervened to broker an awkward deal, with Ghani as the president and Abdullah the chief executive.

On Monday, Abdullah warned that he was in no mood to accede, tweeting: “Our track record of self-denial & compromise should not have given cause to anyone to take us for granted.”

The renewed bickering has added to the frustrations of ordinary Afghans.

“They make promises during the campaign but never act on their promises,” Kabul resident Noman Formuli said.

“They had promised to bring security, they failed. They promised jobs for the country, they failed,” the 24-year-old said. “We are tired of seeing them.”

© Agence France-Presse

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