KABUL (Reuters) - Two rival Afghan politicians appointed themselves president on Monday following a disputed election, a stand-off that threatens political turbulence days after the United States and the Taliban signed a deal on the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.
Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani took oath in the presence of American and U.N. diplomats even as four rockets fell in areas around the presidential palace, triggering momentary chaos.
But his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, refused to recognize the inauguration, holding his own swearing-in ceremony.
Abdullah rejected the result of last year’s election, announced last month, alleging vote-rigging in a repeat of the 2014 elections marred by allegations of fraud. He decided to host his own ceremony coinciding with Ghani’s.
Sources close to Ghani said U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Monday held three meetings with the chief executive to find a solution but did not succeed. Prior to the swearing-in, Abdullah was offered a power-sharing deal with 40% of cabinet members to be chosen from his party and a lead role in peace talks with the Taliban.
Abdullah, however, demanded the top job, sources said. He enjoys strong support from Jamiat, one of the country’s largest parties with a strong base in the north.
U.S. and Western diplomats told Reuters that an arrangement will have to brokered between the two before both start appointing their ministers.
“The two men refuse to negotiate a deal,” said a senior U.S. official in Kabul.
Senior Taliban commanders said they were amused to see two “Western puppets” desperate to get the top job at a time when Taliban insurgents control more than 40% of the country.
“We are the real boss,” said one Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesman said that the standoff was bad for prospects of peace.
WHAT HAPPENS TO ‘INTRA-AFGHAN’ TALKS?
Analysts say the latest political crisis is likely to delay the so-called intra-Afghan talks, including the Taliban and Afghan officials, scheduled for Tuesday.
“The dual inauguration ceremonies held in Kabul were precisely the sort of distraction from Afghanistan’s peace process that the U.S. had hoped to avoid,” said Andrew Watkin at the International Crisis Group.
Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asian Program at the Wilson Center, a U.S. think tank, said the political crisis came at the “worst possible time”.
Additional reporting, writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Nick Macfie