Afghanistan has been held hostage by political stalemate for months. On September 21st it was finally broken, when the country’s two feuding presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, signed a power-sharing agreement. Though the ceremony, at the Arg, the presidential palace in the capital Kabul, was brief and low-key, the deal will radically—and perhaps wisely—change the country’s political framework. Neither man spoke and neither looked quite at ease. But the agreement will at least allow the new government to get on with the massive task of winning the confidence of a country that has been waiting for the deadlock to end. The four-page document, signed in the presence of outgoing President Hamid Karzai, and later by witnesses James Cunningham, the American ambassador, and Jan Kubis, the United Nations’ senior Afghanistan representative (both of whom were banned from the palace ceremony by Mr Karzai), divests the president of his vast powers.
The so-called National Unity Government intends for Mr Ghani, a Western-educated technocrat and former World Bank employee, to become president and for Dr Abdullah (or his nominee) to assume a the role of chief executive officer, newly-created by decree and similar to the position of prime minister. A constitutional change, within the next two years, will confirm the role. The pair will split the allocation of senior positions, including ministries. They have also pledged to fix the country’s election system, which allows voter fraud to flourish.
The secret backroom deal, which many think usurps democratic process, was announced hours before the election commission declared Mr Ghani the winner, and Dr Abdullah the CEO. In a strange kowtowing to Dr Abdullah, who had argued that the poll was poisoned by undetectable fraud, neither the vote tallies nor the turnout were announced. The “everyone’s-a-winner” arrangement, similar to a politically-correct primary school sports day, came about after a bitterly-disputed election season prompted threats to form a parallel government and fears of a return to civil war.