Afghanistan’s CEO Won’t Be His Own Boss

A tense, fifteen-minute ceremony at Kabul’s presidential palace ended with an awkward hug between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who had spent months trading accusations of wide-ranging voter fraud, signing a power-sharing deal that will make Ghani president and Abdullah Afghanistan’s chief executive officer, a title created especially for the agreement. News outlets have rushed ...

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

A tense, fifteen-minute ceremony at Kabul's presidential palace ended with an awkward hug between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who had spent months trading accusations of wide-ranging voter fraud, signing a power-sharing deal that will make Ghani president and Abdullah Afghanistan's chief executive officer, a title created especially for the agreement.

News outlets have rushed to describe Sunday's deal as a tenuous path to joint governance -- one in which Ghani, who was declared winner of the election by an undisclosed margin, will become Afghanistan's new president while Abdullah rides shotgun as a kind of quasi-prime minister. The BBC reported that Afghanistan's CEO will have "powers similar to those of prime minister." The New York Times claimed that Abdullah or his nominee will enjoy "the sort of powers a prime minister normally has." The Guardian even chose to use the term "prime minister" as a stand-in for CEO. "The runner-up, Abdullah -- or someone he appoints -- will become prime minister, or the chief executive officer," May Jeong wrote for that newspaper on Sunday. Taken together, the language surrounding the deal suggests a partnership that grants each man separate but real and protected powers, as in some semi-presidential systems. The agreement text itself states that the CEO will perform "the functions of an executive prime minister."

But the rhetoric and the reality of Sunday's deal are miles apart. As Foreign Policy first reported on Sept. 5, Afghanistan's new CEO won't be his own boss. And he won't be an independent prime minister, either. Far from it: according to the text of the agreement, he'll answer to the president and, as a senior Afghan official told Foreign Policy earlier this month, could be fired at any time and for any reason. Many of the specific powers he receives will be delegated by Ghani by presidential decree. Ultimately, as FP reported, Afghanistan's CEO could end up with actionable power -- or he could become a "glorified advisor with no real executive authority." It's up to the president. Abdullah's future in power, Barnett Rubin, director of New York University's Center on International Cooperation, told Foreign Policy in an email on Monday, "will likely depend on his relationship with Ghani."

A tense, fifteen-minute ceremony at Kabul’s presidential palace ended with an awkward hug between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who had spent months trading accusations of wide-ranging voter fraud, signing a power-sharing deal that will make Ghani president and Abdullah Afghanistan’s chief executive officer, a title created especially for the agreement.

News outlets have rushed to describe Sunday’s deal as a tenuous path to joint governance — one in which Ghani, who was declared winner of the election by an undisclosed margin, will become Afghanistan’s new president while Abdullah rides shotgun as a kind of quasi-prime minister. The BBC reported that Afghanistan’s CEO will have "powers similar to those of prime minister." The New York Times claimed that Abdullah or his nominee will enjoy "the sort of powers a prime minister normally has." The Guardian even chose to use the term "prime minister" as a stand-in for CEO. "The runner-up, Abdullah — or someone he appoints — will become prime minister, or the chief executive officer," May Jeong wrote for that newspaper on Sunday. Taken together, the language surrounding the deal suggests a partnership that grants each man separate but real and protected powers, as in some semi-presidential systems. The agreement text itself states that the CEO will perform "the functions of an executive prime minister."

But the rhetoric and the reality of Sunday’s deal are miles apart. As Foreign Policy first reported on Sept. 5, Afghanistan’s new CEO won’t be his own boss. And he won’t be an independent prime minister, either. Far from it: according to the text of the agreement, he’ll answer to the president and, as a senior Afghan official told Foreign Policy earlier this month, could be fired at any time and for any reason. Many of the specific powers he receives will be delegated by Ghani by presidential decree. Ultimately, as FP reported, Afghanistan’s CEO could end up with actionable power — or he could become a "glorified advisor with no real executive authority." It’s up to the president. Abdullah’s future in power, Barnett Rubin, director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, told Foreign Policy in an email on Monday, "will likely depend on his relationship with Ghani."

Both men are aware that international aid to Afghanistan depends, in part, on their ability to rule together, Rubin said. That knowledge could be enough to preserve their fraught partnership — perhaps even until a 2016 meeting, noted in Sunday’s agreement, that could amend the constitution to create and protect a formal position of executive prime minister. But the promise of an amendment won’t determine how much power Abdullah gets in the meantime. And in Afghanistan’s political climate, 2016 is a long way off.

The date of Ghani’s upcoming inauguration has yet to be announced. But when the day comes, Abdullah, or his nominee, will be along for the ride. During the ceremony, he’ll be appointed CEO by — you guessed it — Ashraf Ghani. It’s a contradiction in terms clear even in the first paragraph of Sunday’s much-touted deal. Afghanistan’s stability depends on a "genuine political partnership between the President of the CEO," that agreement states, "under the authority of the President."

Twitter: @s__engler

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