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Afghan Unity Government Split On Intelligence-Sharing Deal

  • Frud Bezhan

While Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah (right) is said to not be against engagement with Pakistan, he reportedly expected President Ashraf Ghani (left) to consult him before moving forward.

While Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah (right) is said to not be against engagement with Pakistan, he reportedly expected President Ashraf Ghani (left) to consult him before moving forward.

Cracks in Afghanistan's unity government are appearing following the signing of a controversial intelligence deal with neighbor and archrival Pakistan.

According to an inside source, the divide over the memorandum of understanding signed this week between the two countries' spy agencies is evident at the highest levels of the Afghan government.

The so-called national unity government centers on a power-sharing arrangement between the president, Ashraf Ghani, and the chief executive officer (CEO), Abdullah Abdullah.

The source -- a government official who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity -- said Abdullah considers the document "unacceptable" and has made his opposition known to Ghani and senior security officials.

This discord prompted discussions between the Ghani and Abdullah camps at a meeting of the National Security Council on May 21 over how to change the document, according to the source.

Abdullah Sidelined?

Abdullah was angered at the lack of transparency over the deal, according to the official, who claimed that the Afghan CEO was not aware that an agreement had been signed.

Abdullah's first vice president, Mohammad Khan, told TOLO News on May 20 that Abdullah was "consulted only on the draft agreement, but he remained completely unaware of some articles which were included in the agreement later on."

One sticking point, according to Khan, was the labeling of the Taliban in the document as a "separatist movement."

"It doesn't make sense. I don't understand which separatist and where, because we do not have separatists in Afghanistan," Khan said, adding that such "ambiguous issues" needed to be amended.

The agreement, signed on May 18, puts in writing the intention of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) to share intelligence and bolster cooperation in fighting militancy.

But the specifics of the memorandum have not been released, leading to unconfirmed reports in the Afghan media about its contents, including a clause about the ISI equipping and training Afghan intelligence officers. The government has refuted that claim.

"It's really showing that the national unity government is not very united at all," says Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "This deal could exacerbate the existing divisions within what's supposed to be a national unity government."

According to the government source, NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil refused to sign the agreement, leading Ghani to go over his head and ask Nabil's deputy to sign. Nabil has not yet resigned, despite rumors that he has stepped down.

High-Risk Gamble

According to the government official, there is unease among Abdullah's camp over the "speed and depth of Ghani's overtures to Pakistan." While Abdullah is not against engagement with Pakistan, he expected more discussion and input on the issue.

Analyst Kugelman says that Ghani is taking a "high-risk, high-reward" gamble by reaching out to Pakistan, which many inside Afghanistan see as the enemy.

Ghani, determined to get Islamabad's help in brokering peace talks with the Taliban, has offered a number of major concessions that would have been unthinkable under former President Hamid Karzai, who left office in September.

Ghani has defended his overtures to Pakistan. He said on May 21 that clearing up "historical misunderstandings" and ending the long-standing "undeclared state of war" between the neighbors would help peace talks with the Taliban.

But that has not stemmed the tide of criticism directed at his administration. Some current and former Afghan officials, as well as ordinary Afghans, are angry that such an overture was made toward a country many accuse of supporting the Taliban and working against the Afghan government.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org

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