Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A wave of political defections spells new trouble for Afghanistan - Washingtonpost

 Afghanistan’s embattled government is facing a new challenge to its rule: former supporters, disillusioned by what they think is its incompetence, who now want fresh elections to remove the president from power.

The discontent comes as the country is confronting a robust Taliban insurgency and an economy crippled by the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Over the past few months, politicians, warlords, former ministers and other powerbrokers have come out against the government, which they say is paralyzed by infighting and unable to govern.

Critics have lambasted the administration of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who together formed a national unity government after flawed elections in 2014, and they are calling for a snap presidential election to break the deadlock.

The government says that it is dedicated to implementing reforms and that it has made targeting corruption and unemployment priorities. But adding to the urgency is the looming September deadline for launching the mechanism to create a new legitimate government. If that deadline is not met, which is likely, Afghanistan could face a power vacuum that would destabilize the country further.

“If it performed well, people were willing to give the [national unity] government the benefit of the doubt. But it hasn’t. It has proved disastrous for this country,” said Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a former Ghani supporter and onetime finance minister under the previous president, Hamid Karzai.

 In January, Ahadi announced the formation of his own opposition movement, the New National Front of Afghanistan, to pressure the government and to call for new elections. Recent polls show a sharp decline in confidence in the government and public institutions.

"Given how weak the government is, if there is any more instability, it is unlikely it will be able to rule” after September, Ahadi said. “They have mismanaged the country and lost their legitimacy. They should go back to the people and ask for a new mandate.”

 In many ways, the unity government may have been doomed from the start, analysts say. Even its critics say it was undermined by a hastily forged agreement that split power between two archrivals: Abdullah and Ghani.

The stalemate is so bad that the two sides can’t agree on a nominee for defense minister. And Kabul, a city of 4 million people, is still without a mayor because of the deadlock.

"Abdullah and Ghani — they can’t work with each other. If one of them says turn right, the other will say turn left,” said Safiullah, a 28-year-old fruit vendor in Kabul who, like many Afghans, has only one name.

The two camps maintain separate staffs, which rarely coordinate, current and former officials say. Even senior advisers say they have stopped attending weekly cabinet meetings, where the government’s dysfunction is on full display.

"The issues they debate at the cabinet meetings are only minor. They don’t address any major issues facing the country,” said Ahmad Zia Massoud, Ghani’s special representative for reform and good governance.

"This is why I’m reluctant to go,” he said of the meetings. “They don’t talk about education or the economy. And resentment of the government is high.”

Despite his position in the administration, Massoud has joined others in Afghanistan’s political elite in criticizing the performance of the unity government. - Read More

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