Afghan President Ghani and rival Abdullah sign power-sharing deal

Kabul (AFP) –


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday, ending a bitter months-long feud that plunged the country into political crisis.

The breakthrough, which sees Abdullah heading peace talks with the Taliban, comes as Afghanistan battles a series of crises, including a rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus and surging militant violence that saw dozens killed in brutal attacks last week.

"Doctor Abdullah will lead the National Reconciliation High Commission and members of his team will be included in the cabinet," Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for Ghani, wrote on Twitter.

Abdullah's spokesman, Fraidoon Khawzoon, said the deal ensures Abdullah's group gets 50 percent of the cabinet and other provincial governors' posts.

He said the deal is expected to pave the achieve the "ultimate goal of the Afghan people, which is peace".

Khawzoon added that the implementation of the deal will be monitored by respected political and national figures.

"The situation in Afghanistan is precarious," Khwazoon said.

"We need to maintain our unity, and violations could lead to even deeper crisis in the country."

Pictures released by the presidential palace showed Abdullah and Ghani sitting side by side for a signing ceremony, while leading Afghan figures including former president Hamid Karzai looked on.

Abdullah had previously served as Afghanistan's "chief executive" under an earlier power-sharing deal, but lost that post after he was defeated in a presidential election that incumbent Ghani -- a former World Bank economist -- won in September amid claims of fraud.

Abdullah, an ophthalmologist, declared himself president and held his own swearing-in ceremony on March 9, the day Ghani was re-installed as president.

- US pressure on rivals -

On Sunday the two rivals agreed on a new power-sharing deal, which experts feel could help pull Afghanistan out of political crisis.

The agreement names Abdullah to lead future peace talks with the Taliban, who have already signed a landmark accord with Washington to pave the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

"It is now expected that these leaders resolve the problems that Afghanistan faces such as the coronavirus and peace talks with the Taliban," Kabul-based political analyst Sayed Nasir Musawi told AFP.

He said it was "immense pressure" from the United States that made the two agree a deal.

"But it is difficult... differences will remain until they reach an agreement with the Taliban."

Abdullah and Ghani contested the 2014 presidential election, with both claiming victory.

To avert a full-blown conflict, then-US secretary of state John Kerry brokered a deal between the two that left Abdullah as the country's chief executive.

But after a similar impasse in March, an exasperated US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out at the failure of the two leaders to come to an agreement, announced a $1 billion cut in aid to Afghanistan.

With the impoverished country's GDP just $20 billion, the cut was a devastating blow to its donor-dependent economy.

The harsh US measure came as President Donald Trump made it a priority of his administration to end America's longest war.

In February, Washington signed a deal with the Taliban which stipulates that the US and its foreign allies will withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by early 2021.

In return, the Taliban agreed not to attack foreign troops.

But fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces continues to rage in the provinces, with both sides threatening to go on the offensive after two attacks last week that left dozens killed, including mothers and infants when gunmen raided a hospital in Kabul.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for the hospital attack, which the US blamed on the Islamic State group.