KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal to end a months-long political stalemate, Ghani’s spokesman said on Sunday, a step that could smooth efforts to end the country’s long-running war.
Abdullah had disputed the results of an election in September and announced the formation of a parallel government earlier this year, undermining Ghani’s administration at a time when the United States was trying to advance a peace process with the Taliban to end the 19-year Afghan war.
“Today is a historic day for our dear Afghanistan. Afghans have proven that they are committed to their national interests with common thinking,” Ghani said during the signing ceremony.
“In the coming days, we hope that with unity and cooperation, we will be able to provide the ground for a ceasefire and lasting peace,” he added.
Discussions over the final sticking points including the allocation of some key posts had been underway throughout the day, three sources said.
Abdullah had wanted to control a major portfolio such as finance or foreign affairs, and while Ghani has not agreed to this, he could offer control of the interior ministry, sources said shortly before the deal was signed.
It was not immediately clear which ministries each camp controlled after the agreement was struck.
Washington has been frustrated by the growing impasse between the two men, even after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Kabul in March to mediate. It had announced a plan to cut $1 billion in aid because the men could not agree.
Pompeo welcomed the agreement but chided Ghani and Abdullah for taking so long. He said the United States looked forward to prompt intra-Afghan talks and a political settlement.
“Secretary Pompeo noted that he regretted the time lost during the political impasse,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
It was not clear whether Sunday’s agreement would result in the aid commitment being reinstated. Afghanistan is facing growing fiscal pressures, with tax revenues falling and foreign aid pledges due this year expected to shrink.
“Please reconsider your potential $1 billion aid cut. In fact, since we have the COVID-19 pandemic, add more to it. Thank you,” Shamroz Khan Masjidi, a spokesman for the ministry of finance said on Twitter, tagging the Secretary of State.
The State Department did not immediately comment on the aid cut.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the deal and called on the Taliban to reduce violence and for all sides to work towards peace.
Officials say a deal between Ghani and Abdullah is crucial to launching peace talks, as Abdullah’s camp represents much of the country’s north-west.
But the talks face a number of stark challenges, as violence in the country increases. An attack on a Kabul maternity ward this week prompted Ghani to switch the military to an “offensive” stance against insurgent groups.
The Taliban has denied involvement in the attack, but the government has remained sceptical and angry at ongoing Taliban attacks against the Afghan military, fraying the momentum for peace talks, which were due to start in March.
U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on Friday that a new date for intra-Afghan peace talks was under discussion, and that he would soon travel to the region and try to encourage a reduction in violence.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Additional reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Hameed Farzad, Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Euan Rocha and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Frances Kerry, Jan Harvey and Lisa Shumaker)