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Afghan Presidential Candidates Sign Power-Sharing Agreement

WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

After a three month drawn-out political standoff, Afghanistan has finally announced it has a new president - Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister and World Bank official. He will succeed Hamid Karzai, who's ruled the country since the fall of the Taliban. In a brief ceremony today, Ashraf Ghani and his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, signed a deal to form a government of national unity. NPR's Sean Carberry joins us now from Kabul to discuss the developments. Sean, first of all, there must be a sense of relief to have this finally resolved. What can you tell us about this political agreement that was signed today?

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Well, Wade, relief and a little bit of disbelief that it's finally happened after all these months. And this deal was part of a compromise brokered by Secretary of State Kerry two months ago. At the time, Abdullah was alleging the election had been rigged against him, and he was threatening to boycott the process. So to avert a crisis, Kerry stepped in and got the candidates to agree to an audit of the vote and to forge this political deal.

The agreement creates a new position of an executive CEO for the loser of the election. It will be appointed by the president, and the position - it's not quite the level of a prime minister, but it's given authorities to participate in cabinet meetings, decision making, sit on the National Security Council and chair cabinet subcommittees. And the deal also stipulates that national security posts and cabinet positions and other offices will be divided between the president and CEO - in this case, Ashraf Ghani and, presumably, Abdullah Abdullah.

GOODWYN: Sean, you mentioned that this was the result of a deal brokered by Secretary Kerry two months ago. Why did it take so long for the agreement to be signed?

CARBERRY: Well, the preliminary results released in early July showed Ghani with a wide lead. So that created a dynamic where he was negotiating from the position of a presumptive winner. Abdullah's team was approaching this from the standpoint of presumptive losers. So that power dynamic created a difficult tension to overcome. Ghani's camp wanted to concede less. Abdullah's team wanted more in the agreement.

And plus, it wasn't just these two candidates negotiating. They both have powerful backers - some former warlords, other well-connected politicians that they had to answer to and had to appease in the deal.

The U.S. and international community did keep a lot of pressure on. In recent weeks they were threatening to withdraw funding if the candidates didn't get this deal done. And at the last minute there was another controversy where Abdullah wanted the announcement of the results not to say winner or loser and not to actually release the numbers themselves, which was the case. When they announced a few minutes ago that Ghani was the winner, they simply said Ghani is the new president and didn't release the results of who got at how many votes.

GOODWYN: What's the reaction to the deal? Do people think it will bring much needed stability?

CARBERRY: Well, reaction, first of all, is peaceful at the moment. The city is calm. Things are business-as-usual here. And there are many Afghans who do see this as a victory for peace and stability. They think this was the only plausible outcome to have some type of national unity government. But there are others who are very concerned - say this was a fraud. It was not democratic at the end, and at some point down the road, this deal will unravel and old rivalries will reemerge.

GOODWYN: Thanks so much - NPR's Sean Carberry.

CARBERRY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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