Afghanistan finally has a Government of National Unity (GNU). The question, however, remains if it can function and complete its five-year term. Experts consider the new government a short-term solution for Afghanistan. A power sharing deal has been thrashed out between the candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, although there are heavy doubts about the incoming government´s future and functionality.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, have extremely different personalities which will make it difficult for them to work alongside each other in the coming months. The candidates have come together under pressure from the international community and their supporters who have vastly invested in their presidential campaigns.
The new government in Kabul will now have to sign a security agreement with Washington. This agreement will allow NATO forces to legally remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 but will also give a reason and motivation for the Taliban to continue fighting.
And it still remains to be seen which way the national unity government takes Afghanistan. There are doubts whether that form of government is an adequate solution for Afghanistan’s multi-layered problems. Afghanistan’s past decades have been characterised by extreme violence, but its main expression currently is the war between, on one side, the central government (to which both competing presidential tickets more or less belong) and its (now withdrawing) international allies, and, on the other, an armed insurgency. This war is not election-related. The major insurgent organization, the Taleban, has not taken part in the disputed elections, while the second-largest, the insurgent wing of Hezb-e Islami, has meandered between rejection and supporting certain candidates. If there is an existential threat to Afghanistan, it rather derives from the persistent insurgency that, at least in its initial stage (and apart from outside support, particularly from Pakistan), was fed by violent political exclusion and widespread corruption in government.
Afghanistan’s election-related crisis is grave, as it undermined voters’ trust in democratic institutions and has even exacerbated an economic downturn. The speeding brain drain of educated young Afghans has to be stopped.
But the present economic and financial crisis does not constitute an essential threat. This could only happen if it lingered on and led to more polarisation and even violence. Over the past years, the funds contributing international community silently dropped many qualitative ‘benchmarks’ on improving governance and fighting corruption, facing, as it did, a more assertive Karzai government that is labelling such attempts ‘external interference’.
The election crisis has shown that Afghanistan is still unable to fully manage on its own. It continues to need international support, not only on the military and development sides, but also in institution building.
This time, however, a superficial solution will be insufficient. Both the Afghan elites and the international community need to pull together, face their own failures and finally start to work seriously, bearing in mind where a failure might lead – see Iraq, Syria and the Islamic State. However, there are indications that the new Government cannot succeed and we might watch the beginning of a torturous descent into total chaos.