Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was sworn in for a second term on Monday but his main rival for the top job refused to recognise the inauguration, holding his own swearing-in ceremony as a rival president.
Afghan local news channel TOLONews reported international representatives, including US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and US and NATO forces commander Genenral Scott Miller, attended Ghani’s inauguration at the Presidential palace in Kabul.
Presidential candidate and rival in a disputed election Abdullah Abdullah held his own ceremony at a similar time, suggesting talks between the two camps and Khalilzad aimed at brokering an agreement had not been successful.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Al Jazeera that the political standoff between the top leaders is “not a good sign for prospects of peace in the country”.
Earlier on Monday, Abdullah suspended his swearing-in event on the condition that Ghani follow suit. But Ghani, who was declared the winner of September’s election last month, decided to go ahead with his inauguration.
The two men issued invitations last week to parallel swearing-in ceremonies on Monday, after Abdullah disputed the February 18 decision by the Electoral Commission and proclaimed himself winner.
‘Delay the intra-Afghan talks’
Analysts say the latest political crisis is likely to delay the anticipated intra-Afghan talks scheduled for Tuesday as part of Afghanistan’s nascent peace process.
“Not only will this almost certainly delay the intra-Afghan talks, but complications are very likely to follow from this political standoff, when it comes to composing the pro-government negotiating team – and its positions on critical issues,” Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst on Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.
“However, many of the difficulties that lie ahead in the peace process would have remained, even had Khalilzad’s mediation efforts succeeded in resolving this political theatre.
“The divide between Ghani and many opposition figures would have remained substantive even under some form of compromise, which would have prompted many of the same hurdles in the peace process that Afghanistan now faces,” Watkins said.
The political infighting in Kabul does not bode well for Afghanistan’s fragile democracy as US troops prepare to leave the country following an agreement with the Taliban armed group, with President Donald Trump committed to ending the US’s longest war.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly held meetings with Ghani and Abdullah until late Sunday to convince them to postpone the inauguration.
The crisis comes as the government is meant to be preparing for talks with the Taliban, to follow up on the February 29 pact between the US and the Taliban on the US troop withdrawal after 18 years of war.
Ghani and Abdullah held roles in the previous government under a US-brokered power-sharing agreement that followed the 2014 elections marred by fraud allegations.
A former foreign minister, Abdullah held the specially created post of chief executive in the outgoing government.
Under election law, the swearing-in ceremony for president must be held within 30 days of announcing the winner.