Afghan presidential rivals set to ink `unity government` deal

Afghanistan`s two rival presidential candidates are due to sign a power-sharing agreement Sunday, officials said, forming a potentially rocky coalition that will end a prolonged stand-off over the disputed election result.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 21, 2014, 01:10 AM IST

Kabul: Afghanistan`s two rival presidential candidates are due to sign a power-sharing agreement Sunday, officials said, forming a potentially rocky coalition that will end a prolonged stand-off over the disputed election result.

The final vote count is also scheduled for release, after being delayed for last-minute talks to break a deadlock that has plunged Afghanistan into a political crisis as US-led troops end their 13-year war against the Taliban.

Ashraf Ghani -- who won the run-off vote according to preliminary results -- is set to emerge as president, with Abdullah Abdullah nominating who will fill the new post of "chief executive officer", possibly taking on the role himself.

Both Ghani and Abdullah claim to have won the fraud-tainted election, and the United Nations has pushed hard for a "national unity government" to avoid a return to the ethnic divisions of the 1990s civil war.

"Both candidates are expected to sign an agreement on the structure of National Unity (Government) tomorrow," Aimal Faizi, spokesman for outgoing President Hamid Karzai, said on his Twitter account late Saturday.

Under the Afghan constitution, the president wields almost total control, and the new government structure will face a major test as the country`s security and economic outlook worsens.

The vote count has been plagued by months of setbacks amid allegations of massive fraud, emboldening the Taliban insurgents and further weakening the fragile aid-dependent economy.

"The IEC will officially announce the final result of the presidential election tomorrow," Independent Election Commission spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor told AFP on Saturday.A ruling coalition between the opposing camps is likely to be uneasy after a bitter election that has revived some of the ethnic loyalties of the civil war that led to the Taliban taking power in Kabul.

The power-sharing deal will also take the luster off hopes that Afghanistan could hold a transparent election to cap the multi-billion-dollar international military and aid intervention since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

"The agreement was finalised an hour ago, with both sides agreeing on all points," Faizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Ghani, told AFP.

"It will be signed tomorrow in front of the media, and the details will be revealed then."

Abdullah`s press team were not immediately available to comment late Saturday.

President Hamid Karzai, whose successor was originally due to be inaugurated on August 2, was constitutionally barred from standing for a third term in office. He has stayed publicly neutral in the election.

About 41,000 NATO troops remain in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 150,000 in 2010, fighting along Afghan soldiers and police against the fierce Taliban insurgency.

NATO`s combat mission will end in December, with a follow-on force of about 12,000 troops likely to stay into 2015 on training and support duties.

After the June election was engulfed in fraud allegations, the US brokered a deal in which the two candidates agreed to abide by the outcome of an audit of all eight million ballot papers and then form a national unity government.

But Abdullah later abandoned the audit, saying it was failing to clean out fraud.

Only ten days ago, he insisted he had won fairly and that negotiations over the unity government had collapsed.

Street protests by either side`s supporters risk spilling into serious unrest because Abdullah draws his support from Tajiks and other northern ethnic groups, while Ghani is backed by Pashtun tribes of the south and east.

Abdullah is a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, while Ghani is a ex-World Bank economist.

The new administration will have to stabilise the economy as international aid falls, and deal with worsening unrest nationwide.

Efforts to open a peace process with the Taliban failed under Karzai and may be revived.

A total of 2,312 civilians were killed in the first eight months of this year, an increase of 15 percent from 2013.