Ashraf Ghani took oath of office over three months ago but has yet to finalize his senior cabinet.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani marked his first 100 days in power on Tuesday, still struggling to form a government as a new political stalemate threatens to fuel the Taliban insurgency.
The deadlock over senior cabinet positions has underlined the challenges of running a “unity government,” which was formed in September after an election mired by fraud and disputed results.
Ghani was eventually inaugurated on Sept. 29 after agreeing to a power-sharing deal with his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was appointed “chief executive”—a new role similar to prime minister. The deal was seen as saving Afghanistan from the risk of imminent civil war, but it was soon bogged down in disagreements over which side’s loyalists would take key roles such as interior and defense minister. Ghani has repeatedly missed his own deadlines on forming the government and asked Afghans to show patience as he makes key personnel decisions.
The political vacuum comes at a sensitive time as Taliban insurgents push to exploit the end of NATO’s combat mission on Dec. 31 after 13 years of fighting. About 17,000 foreign troops will remain in Afghanistan this year, focusing on training the Afghan security forces and conducting a limited counter-terrorism mission. Essential aid money from donor nations could also be held up if no government is formed.
“The delay has emboldened the enemy to step up attacks, and undermined the legitimacy of the unity government because security has deteriorated and the economy is down,” said political analyst Mia Gul Waseeq. “The international community wants an accountable and corruption-free cabinet.”
Ghani hit the ground running when he signed a long-delayed security deal in his first full day in office. The pact allowed U.S.-led troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014—a step seen as crucial to beating back the Taliban that had been rejected by Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai.
Ghani has worked to improve badly frayed ties with Washington, Afghanistan’s biggest donor, and also with Pakistan, which has an influential role as insurgents seek safe havens on both sides of the border.
A senior official close to Ghani defended the delay and said the government would be announced soon. “There has been great progress in talks on formation of the cabinet,” he said. “It has almost been finalized and will most likely be announced by the end of the week.”