A Breakthrough In Kabul

In a deal brokered by John Kerry, the two sides in Afghanistan’s seemingly intractable election crisis have tentatively agreed to radically transform the structure of the country’s government, moving toward a more parliamentary system with an empowered prime minister to check the authority of the presidency (NYT):

The candidate who is declared president after a complete vote audit in the coming weeks would then appoint either the loser, or that candidate’s nominee, to become a “chief executive” for the government, with powers to be agreed on later. Then, in the following two or three years, the Constitution would be amended to create a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister as head of government and a president as the head of state. That timeline puts important decisions off into a very indefinite future, and will revive a debate that deeply divided Afghan officials a decade ago, with some arguing then that a parliamentary system risked instability.

On balance, Mataconis decides this is the right call:

For the most part, Karzai fulfilled the role that he was supposed to play notwithstanding the well founded criticisms against him during his time in office. Now that he’s leaving, though, it seems clear that the government structure that was created a decade ago, seemingly with Karzai in mind as the person who would be the powerful President, is not going to work going forward.

Some of the reasons for this are obvious, of course. While Karzai may have been able to unite the nation’s various ethnic groups during his time in office, this election made clear that this isn’t going to be possible going forward. There are competing passions and interests, and a system that results in all of the power being vested in one side even if they only win by a narrow margin in a disputed election isn’t one that’s likely to last very long.

The parties have also agreed to a comprehensive audit of last month’s runoff election. This is all to the good, but Nishank Motwani warns that it’s too soon to breathe easy:

While the political crisis has been dampened momentarily, the increasing number of attacks by the Taliban on Afghan National Security Forces in recent weeks bodes ill for the country’s security transition. The Taliban, it appears, have been exploiting the political instability in the country and the drawdown of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force to instill fear and uncertainty in the population. Moreover, the Taliban stand to gain from an escalation of the political crisis because the ensuing instability would be far more destructive than what violence alone can deliver. Such a condition would play to their strengths as political opponents; tribal leaders and Afghans would look for an ally — even if the Taliban are undesirable — who could protect them from a crumbling, yet predatory, state. The intensification of Taliban attacks is also meant to demonstrate to the Afghan government and its security apparatus that they are far from a spent force.