Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.
By Mushtaq Rahim
The Afghan elections, one of the longest ever experienced by the world, was point of discussions, disagreements and even disassociation among Afghans. The politically agreed settlement, facilitated by Secretary of States, Joh Kerrey, was thought to be an end to the political debates and it was hoped that the country will resume its normal life beyond political instability. However, the thought proved to be a false one as conclusion of elections marked another inception. Following formulation of the National Unity Government (NUG), the state leadership continues to struggle to identify national cabinet.
As part of the political agreement between Dr. Ghani and Abdullah, the cabinet seats were to be distributed between the two groups. Each party was allocated portfolios to be taken over by their nominees. In the meantime, as per Ghani’s remarks from time to time that cabinet seating, while offered as per the agreed distribution plan, will be given to the technically qualified people. He has also been saying time and again that the old faces will be replaced by the new ones.
In the meantime, it is very clear that Dr. Abdullah has promises to fulfill that were made to his poltical allays during the election campaign period. Also, as a nominee of Jammiat-e-Islami party, he has to have his party men instated as cabinet members. As a result, Dr. Abdullah is obliged to fulfill his commitments and meet party members’ expectations.
As can be seen, there is a divergence of priorities among the top two in the Afghan Government in regard to cabinet formulation. While Dr. Abdullah is to meet his obligations and promises, Dr. Ghani pursues capacity and capability of the ministerial candidates. This, consequently, puts the two into disagreement straightaway and causes delays in formulation of the cabinet.
On the other hand, lists of cabinet nominees emerge on social media from time to time. Looking at the lists that have surfaced on the social media, the appointments usually are ill-choices and are faced with harsh criticism of the public. It has been a trend that each time a list makes way to the social media, there is a subsequent clarification from official quarters of the Government nullifying it.
As a common practice of the Afghan politics, conspiracy theories also continue to maintain its position in the cabinet making process. There are sources harping on the fact that there are talks being facilitated between Taliban and the Afghan Government by the Chinese authorities. There is a possibility of the Taliban giving up armed struggle and joining the national mainstream which will mean that they will be given a space in the cabinet. Therefore, the cabinet announcement has been delayed till the conclusion of backdoor efforts. Though can not be authenticated at this stage, if this is a reason behind delay of cabinet formulation, then it is going to take much longer than anticipated as peace talks are not an easy process.
All the delay, however, has been causing reputation damage to Dr. Ghani. His diehard fans and backers have started revealing their frustration and anger and as such the President is on downwards slide as far as his followership is concerned. The delays in cabinet announcement has been a cause of concern among general public in the wake of wave of insecurity across the country.
Backers and supporters of President Ghani put their weight behind him mainly because they considered him a man of principles, the one who would be savior of the Country. Many of his supporters are putting forth videos of his presidential campaign period speeches and interviews captioning them with reminders to the president of promises he had made. The reminders are made usually after list of nominees for cabinet surface on social domain as most of them are comprised of names technically not qualified to take on the job. Hence, people having supported Dr. Ghani as person believing in qualification rather than political standing, get frustrated and show their irritation on social media and personal gatherings.
While people are justified to be at unease and dismay caused by delays in formulation of the cabinet, they must not forget the ground realities. People have to remember the fact that President Ghani has not seated presidency in a fashion as one would have expected. The moment the power sharing took place between the top two candidates, half of his promises had to evaporate since he had an equal partner in decision making and as such he had to do away with his principles and promises at least for the share of his partner.
Nevertheless, it seems that the president continues to remain engaged with his NUG partner advocating for capacity and capability while his partner continues to respect his obligations vis a vis his political partners. In such a circumstances, delays are going to be natural part of the parcel while the end result may still not be the one as was perceived by the followers of the two leaders. The negotiated settlements have to be based on bargaining between the two priorities and at the end of the day, compromises will have to be made.
Therefore, the Afghan public, be it followers of Ashraf Ghani or supporters of Dr. Abdullah, will have to realize the ground realities, albeit harsh ones. There will be delays, and might be longer ones than expected in formulation of the cabinet. There can also be faces on portfolios they would not deserve to get during normal circumstances. Also, until a formal announcement takes place, the lists circulated by unauthentic sources should be ignored. In the meantime, the political supports of the two personalities should continue to exert pressure on their political leaders. However, they need to refrain from taking their support back, because, at the end of the day, they are the people ultimately responsible for leading the nation at the very critical juncture of its history and public support remains their first and foremost need. The ground realities need to be realized, recognized and owned before choosing any path. Expectations will have to be aligned with the ground realities. And the ground realities is that none of the two candidates might not be able to fully deliver on their promises and principles.