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ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed a power-sharing deal with his rival Abdullah Abdullah Sunday, marking a possible end to months of post-presidential-election turmoil and years of political tug of war between the two camps.
While Ghani will remain the president, Abdullah will assume the de-facto number two position, will recommend candidates for 50 percent of the cabinet, including key ministries, and will help devise the mechanism for the appointment of governors.
Abdullah will also lead the peace process and future negotiations with the Taliban as the head of a new High Council of National Reconciliation.
The council will guide the team of Afghans negotiating with the Taliban, create national and international consensus on the peace process, and work toward getting continuing support and financial assistance from the international community after a hoped-for future deal with Taliban.
A powerful Uzbek warlord and former vice president General Abdul Rashid Dostum has been granted the rank of a marshall, the highest military rank in the country, through a presidential decree.
In 2016, a political rival accused Dostum, who has a history of alleged human rights abuses, of beating him and ordering his sexual assault. Dostum fled to Turkey for a year before returning to become Abdullah's running mate in the presidential elections.
Ghani and Abdullah announced parallel governments in February after bitterly disputing the results of a presidential election held five months earlier.
The two were also chief rivals in the previous presidential elections of 2014, causing a similar turmoil and forcing then-Secretary of State John Kerry to step in and help negotiate a unity government with Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive.
However, the five years of unity government were marred by constant rivalry between the two and their supporters, impacting national decision making and governance.
The two sides have finally come to an agreement under intense pressure from the United States which seemed to be getting wary that the machinations in Kabul might derail a peace-building deal it had signed with the Taliban in February.
In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used some of the harshest words seen in U.S. diplomacy with Afghanistan over the failure of Ghani and Abdullah to come to a compromise to form an inclusive government.
"Their failure has harmed U.S.-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonors those Afghans, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country," a Pompeo statement said.
The U.S. also reduced its aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion in 2020 and threatened to take away another billion if the two sides did not come to terms.
The deal, while helping bring political stability to the country, will also strengthen the position of their team during future negotiations with the Taliban. Previously, many thought the Afghan government was in a weaker position since various political factions were divided.
The negotiations with the Taliban were expected to start in March, ten days after the insurgent group signed a deal with the U.S. They have been constantly delayed, mostly due to the delay in release of Taliban prisoners that the militant group has said is a pre-requisite to the start of talks.
Ghani's government was furious over the U.S. pledging the release of prisoners to Taliban as it reduces its leverage in its own negotiations with the militant group.
Ghani wanted the Taliban to announce a cease-fire before the prisoners were released.