Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will be Afghanistan’s second leader since the 2001 U.S. invasion after reaching a power-sharing deal with his rival, paving the way for American troops to stay in the country beyond this year.
Ghani, a 65-year-old former World Bank economist, was declared president after the second round of an election that began in April, Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul yesterday. Runner-up Abdullah Abdullah, 54, will be appointed to a new chief executive officer position, he said.
“The mediation efforts by the U.S. and others since June have paid off for now,” Omar Samad, a former Afghan ambassador to France, said by e-mail. “They cannot dismiss the investments of the past 13 years nor can they jeopardize the security situation at a time when the Middle East and Islamic countries are facing new challenges in the form of ISIS.”
The U.S. will look to Ghani to sign a stalled Bilateral Security Agreement that would allow American troops to stay in the country and unlock billions of dollars he’ll need to battle Taliban insurgents seeking to retake power. Ghani said in a May interview that he’d sign the pact within a week of taking power from President Hamid Karzai, who refused to endorse the deal.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who flew to Afghanistan twice in the past three months to mediate between Ghani and Abdullah, said the signing of the U.S. troop pact and a NATO Status of Forces Agreement “will open a new chapter in our enduring partnership with Afghanistan.”
$ 99 Billion
The U.S. spent about $ 93 billion in military and economic assistance to Afghanistan from the Taliban’s ouster through September 2013, with a further $ 6.1 billion budgeted for this year, the Congressional Research Service said in May. As of Sept. 19, 2,346 Americans have died in the war.
Increased security is key for Afghanistan to tap mineral resources estimated at $ 3 trillion. Foreign grants pay for about 50 percent of the government’s expenditure, according to World Bank estimates.
“This agreement marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability in Afghanistan,” the White House said in a statement yesterday. Afghan officials have yet to announce an inauguration date.
The Obama administration plans to reduce this year’s deployment of more than 30,000 troops to about 9,800 by the start of next year. That number would be reduced by about half by the end of next year and cut again to a small security force for the U.S. embassy in Kabul by the end of 2016.
Nuristani, the poll commission chief, didn’t provide an audited tally of how many votes Ghani and Abdullah had won. About 5 percent of 22,828 ballot boxes were considered fraudulent and dismissed, Nuristani said.
The United Nations’ representative office in Kabul told election officials to keep the vote tallies secret to avoid any violence nationwide, according to Mohammad Halim Fedai, a Ghani aide. Ari Gaitanis, a UN spokesman, declined to comment on Fedai’s claims.
Afghan television and social media reported the final breakdown as about 55% for Ghani and almost 45% for Abdullah.
“Those are the numbers that the local media have published and the two camps are talking about,” said Nader Nadery, head of the Kabul-based Free and Fair Elections Foundation, an independent monitoring group. He said his group’s own tally shows almost the same results.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, won the most votes in the first round in April, while falling short of the 50 percent threshold to avoid a June runoff. Initial results showed Ghani winning the second, prompting Abdullah to boycott the vote count. He alleged fraudulent votes weren’t invalidated, triggering a complete audit of all ballot boxes.
Ghani and Abdullah embraced on stage yesterday when they signed the power-sharing agreement in the presence of Karzai. The outgoing president wished both men success and said he stood ready to help with the transition.
The four-page power-sharing accord calls for Afghanistan to change its constitution and overhaul election laws. The CEO will lead weekly cabinet meetings, participate in bilateral meetings, help appoint senior officials and sit on the National Security Council. He will report to the president.
Ghani is a Pashtun who served as Afghanistan’s finance minister from 2002 to 2004. He lived outside of the country for more than 20 years while Afghanistan was mired in conflict with the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s.
Ghani received a doctorate degree from Columbia University and taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins University, according to his website. During his tenure at the World Bank, he spent time in Russia, China and India managing large-scale development projects, it said.
Abdullah is half Pashtun and half Tajik. He was a close aide to Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masood, who’s seen by many Afghans as a national hero. They fought together against the Soviets and the Taliban.
The two men have complementary skills and must work together for the benefit of the nation, said Jawid Kohistani, a Kabul-based political and security analyst.
“A coalition government is good news for Afghanistan and its people as it will help prevent any chaos and crisis,” Kohistani said. “It’s time for both candidates to set aside their anger and work together for the development of Afghanistan.”
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