KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan's unity government is expected to remain in place despite the formal expiration on Thursday of the U.S.-brokered deal between two electoral rivals whose internal feuding has undermined efforts to battle the Taliban and stabilize the country.
The deal was negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014 following elections in which Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory. The deal made Ghani president, and Abdullah reluctantly accepted the secondary role of chief executive.
It obliged the two to govern together for two years, during which time electoral reforms and electronic national identity cards would be introduced and parliamentary and district elections held. The deal also included the convening of a Loya Jirga — or grand council of community and religious leaders — to potentially approve the creation of a prime minister's post, which would be filled by Abdullah.
None of the commitments have been met.
But during a visit to Kabul earlier this year, Kerry declared the unity government deal open-ended, despite it setting a 2015 deadline for parliamentary elections and specifying the Loya Jirga be held within two years.
In the two years since the deal was reached, the unity government has grappled with an increasingly potent Taliban insurgency as well as widespread corruption and economic malaise. Its failure to address those issues has been widely blamed on the internal rivalry. Ghani and Abdullah have vetoed each other's Cabinet choices and used delays in appointments as an excuse for not complying with the deal. By August, the two had not met one-on-one for three months.
But a recent threat by Abdullah and his backers to withdraw from the government appears to have forced Ghani to move forward with commitments under the deal. The president's spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, said Ghani has "finalized the election reform and taken practical steps to holding parliamentary and district council elections."
On Tuesday, Abdullah reassured a meeting of senior clerics that the government would not end just because elections haven't been held.
"The office of chief executive will continue to function with all its authority for the remainder of the government's term," Abdullah said. Three years remain of the government's five-year term.
Arranging elections, Loya Jirgas, or the distribution of national ID cards would take many months in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, where security after 15 years of war is deteriorating and many regions lack basic infrastructure. In past elections, ballot papers were delivered by donkeys to some rural areas so remote that they could not even be reached by helicopter.
Analyst Haroun Mir said he doubted the new talk of unity would translate into progress, and that the two men are likely to simply muddle through until the next presidential election.
"The two leaders have shown that they are not able to work together," he said. "Whereas we could and should be making progress in fighting corruption, improving the economy and security, the next three years will once again be concentrated on managing the political crisis."