Project: Afghanistan: Opportunity in Crisis

Noah Coburn, Political Anthropologist, Bennington College

A power-sharing agreement ended the impasse that followed the disputed presidential elections in 2014, but its improvisational nature highlighted shortcomings in the political system – raising concerns for the future.

Photo: Mustafa NajafizadaPhoto: Mustafa Najafizada
  • The September 2014 power-sharing agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah only partially resolved the political crisis that followed Afghanistan’s disputed presidential elections. The compromise of Ghani’s inauguration as president and Abdullah’s appointment to the new role of chief executive officer ended a stand-off that had threatened a political collapse, but in-fighting has continued to impede the day-to-day functions of government.

  • The post-election crisis, and the extra-constitutional negotiations it generated, highlighted the weakness of the legal framework, which was unable to provide an effective, transparent transfer of power.

  • A timely assessment of the flawed 2014 transition is needed if stakeholders are to address the concerns arising from it and prevent further damage to democratic institutions. This is of particular relevance for the management of future votes, including upcoming parliamentary elections.

  • The 2014 crisis has created opportunities for reform, in part by disrupting a political system reliant on patronage. Popular dissatisfaction with the status quo could create space for devolution of some powers to local levels. The crisis has also potentially provided the United Nations with a more central role in supporting democratization.

  • Obstacles to reform include the timing of parliamentary polls in 2015 and the weakness of the electoral agencies that oversaw the 2014 transition.

  • A commitment to transparent elections by the Afghan government, the ruling elite and the international community is imperative. Failure to undertake reform will undermine the notion of democratic elections for the Afghan public.