Afghan factions reach agreement on power sharing
The months long controversy over who won the election run off for Afghanistan president appears to have ended with both sides in the dispute agreeing to a power sharing arrangement.
With most foreign troops leaving by the end of the year, one might argue that the contentious dispute was like two captains arguing over who would be in charge of the Titanic.
Nevertheless, the deal is done and Afghanistan will have something like a government, although definitions in this case are fluid.
Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates signed a deal on Sunday to share power after months of turmoil over a disputed election that destabilized the nation at a crucial time as most foreign troops prepare to leave.
Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who will be named president, embraced rival Abdullah Abdullah after they signed the power-sharing agreement at a ceremony watched by outgoing president Hamid Karzai, and broadcast live from the presidential palace.
The new administration faces huge challenges in fighting an emboldened Taliban-led insurgency and paying its bills amid plummeting tax revenue.
It will also face significant difficulty in improving the lives of ordinary Afghans who face hard times as aid flows fall and as contracts with the NATO-led coalition dry up as most foreign troops leave by the end of the year.
The accord was swiftly welcomed by Washington. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had helped broker negotiations between both sides over the past two months.
"This agreement marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability in Afghanistan," said a statement issued by the office of the White House Press Secretary.
"We continue to call on all Afghans – including political, religious, and civil society leaders - to support this agreement and to come together in calling for cooperation and calm."
One of Ghani's first acts would be to sign a long-delayed bilateral security agreement with the United States, as he has previously declared support for the pact to allow a small force of foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
There is a risk that any instability could be exploited by neighbors, like Pakistan, whose past meddling in Afghan affairs have played a part in the conflicts that have dogged Afghanistan for decades.
Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, and Abdullah, whose main support comes from the country's second largest ethnic group, the Tajiks, face as difficult task forging unity in a country riven by ethnic and tribal rivalries.
As the Russians and now the US has discovered, Afghanistan isn't really a "country" as we understand the term. It is a collection of warring tribes and ethnicities who make bargains of convenience with who ever is in power in Kabul. Most of the warlords who actually run Afghanistan will have to be bought off to cement their allegiance to the national government. Even then, their loyalty is suspect.
As for the Taliban, they appear to be waiting patiently for the US to leave when they may launch an offensive. Supplied with arms by our "friends" in Pakistan, the Taliban already possess large tracts of land from which they can launch attacks. The Afghan army, better than it was but still a huge question mark, would have to surprise a lot of observers to hold their own against the seasoned fighters in the Taliban.
The Afghanistan government may collapse at the first push by the Taliban. It may even fall appart sooner. This is not going to end well for the US.