April 11, 2016 / 12:32 PM / 2 years ago

Afghan opposition groups angry at Kerry comments on deadline

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan opposition politicians reacted with anger to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s weekend declaration that the 2014 deal setting up President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government would allow it to serve a full five-year term.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds a news conference at the conclusion of the G7 foreign ministers meetings in Hiroshima, Japan, April 11, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Kerry’s comments followed U.S. concern at mounting political tension in Kabul, where opposition groups have been pressing for a constitutional loya jirga, or special assembly, to decide the future of the government later this year.

Fazel Hadi Muslimyar, speaker of the Senate, branded Kerry’s intervention “interference in our domestic affairs” and said Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah should be pushing to convene the loya jirga by September.

The spat highlights the risk of a serious political crisis in Afghanistan in coming months as the Taliban press their insurgency against a government that has struggled to ensure security and provide basic services.

Under the terms of the deal brokered by Kerry after the disputed 2014 election, a loya jirga was due to be held within two years to decide on transforming Abdullah, the runner up, into a prime minister.

However Kerry said that although the goal was to hold a loya jirga, there was no fixed deadline and the government could serve its five-year term.

Before any assembly can be held, parliamentary and district elections, which would be key to selecting participants, must take place but there are doubts about whether they can be organised in time given the worsening security situation.

Umer Daudzai, one of the leaders of a new opposition group who served as interior minister under former President Hamid Karzai, said in a statement the government had to ensure elections were held and the loya jirga went ahead “so the nation can take a decision”.

“Unfortunately, surveys show that a majority of our people are extremely unhappy and want a change in the current administration,” he said, adding that Washington should back legally established processes in Afghanistan.

Critics accuse Ghani of running a dysfunctional government in which he has alienated ministers with an abrasive personal style and micromanagement even of relatively minor issues.

“Officials and ministers from both camps are sabotaging one another because there is no trust,” said Mirdad Nejrabi, chairman of the lower house security committee.

Spokesmen for both Ghani and Abdullah reject the claims, saying the two sides work well together.

“Of course, when you have two people working together, they have different perspectives, different thoughts. But they work together,” said Abdullah’s spokesman, Javid Faisel.

With efforts to revive peace talks with the Taliban stalled, what happens after the expected pickup in fighting in spring may be decisive.

“The battlefield will decide,” Daudzai told Reuters. “If something major happens, it will affect everything.”

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Mirwais Harooni; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie

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