As America struggles to find ways and means to mobilize blood and treasure to fuel and propel another ‘war of decades’ in Iraq to militarily engage the Islamic State, Afghan government has sounded a distress alarm that it is broke. It has formally requested the US for an immediate $537 million bailout. Presidential hopeful, Mr. Ashraf Ghani has said that there is a budgetary shortage of more than $900 million, in part due to a collapse in tax and customs collections over doubts about the formation of new government. With America focusing on the Islamic State fighters across Iraq and Syria, the Taliban may not seem so pressing a threat.

Be that as it may, without immediate rescue, the Afghan government won’t be able to pay its employees. Afghanistan’s 350,000 strong security forces are paid for by the America led coalition; the Afghan government only provides them daily meals. An oft quoted military adage has it that the “Army marches on its stomach”. And if the soldiers don’t eat, they create serious problems; they may even go on rampage. Therefore, without the bailout, Afghan government will have a difficult time keeping terrorists out of Afghanistan. The Taliban are increasing pressure around Kabul, where they killed two American troops outside the US embassy in a suicide bombing on September 16. Another indicator of economic difficulties is that power supply to some of the cities is being scaled down due to lack of funding to sustain capacity level generation.

According to some analysts, the Americans have built a government in Afghanistan that it can’t sustain. So far, Afghanistan’s reconstruction has received nearly $104 billion dollars over the last 13 years, and the US is likely to invest at least $5-8 billion a year, once foreign troops leave the country. Afghan government is heavily dependant on foreign aid. Over 60 percent of its GDP is mobilized through foreign donors; a major chunk is underwritten by the United States.

With regard to political transition, a stalemate prevails due to non-acceptance of the presidential election results by the contenders. Both sides have pledged to accept the results of a UN monitored investigation into vote-rigging. The political landscape in Afghanistan is jockeying between an implosion that could ignite civil war in Kabul and a power-sharing deal that could give the country another chance for stability.

Election results are likely to confirm former finance minister Ashraf Ghani as winner. Abdullah and Ghani were close to a power-sharing deal after they met face-to-face on September 16; however, they failed to reach an agreement. Abdullah did not want the results as they now stand. He wants more ballots invalidated to narrow Ghani’s presumed margin of victory. One of the proposals Abdullah made in his meeting with Ghani was for the Election Complaints Commission to invalidate more votes in order to narrow the margin between the candidates while still allowing Ghani to win. “We were asked to agree on an outcome of the result by a close margin, but we did not accept it.” Ghani’s spokesman Tahir Zahir said. “We want the election bodies to announce the genuine result of the election”, he added. A government official with direct knowledge of the meeting confirmed that Abdullah had asked for adjusted results that showed him losing narrowly so that he could sell the deal to his backers. Abdullah’s spokesman Rahimi said, “Any results showing a loss by a wide margin could enrage supporters of the losing side; so there are talks and different ideas how to manage that so we don’t have a crisis.”

The protracted electoral process has now entered its final phase, requiring a separate Elections Complaints Commission to rule on allegations of fraud, aside from the UN sponsored audit. After completing its task, Elections Complaints Commission would send the result to the Independent Elections Commission to be declared official and released to the public. No firm date for making final results public has been announced. Abdullah is also insisting that the final election results, due within days, be delayed until a deal on a unity government is agreed. However, election officials have said they will announce them whether or not there is a deal. The Abdullah camp could walk out of negotiations if the results are released without its consent—frustration arising out of losing presidential elections for the second time in a row has made Abdullah a wild card; and ironically, only he holds the key to smooth political transition.

Secretary of State John Kerry has made a personal effort to settle the issue by convincing the contenders to form a national unity government. Reportedly there are “a couple of substantial remaining issues” with regard to the power sharing agreement. Among the other unresolved issues, there are sticking points as to how many government positions each side can appoint and whether the new chief executive can call and chair cabinet meetings. Details of how much power the chief executive would wield have been a major obstacle in finalising the deal.

It will be a catastrophe for Afghanistan, if the deal does not come about, or falls apart at the implementation stage. “We are able to work together pragmatically,” Ghani said. Two sides have agreed on a formula for a new government position of “chief executive officer, who will be responsible for implementing policies and will chair council of ministers. The CEO — presumably Dr Abdullah or his nominee— would report to the president and his cabinet; and would also be engaged as a participant in decision making process. That certainly sounds like a viable power-sharing formula. Given the high stakes, the two men ought to find a way to resolve the outstanding details at the earliest.

Afghanistan’s President Karzai has recently said that the United States needed to work with other countries that also had an interest in the vote’s outcome to help push through the deal. “Afghanistan must not be a ground for competition between countries ... It is therefore important that the US should seek an environment of common understanding with other countries,” he said. His spokesman Aimal Faizi said that President wanted the US to engage regional powers including neighbouring Iran.

Both Ashraf and Abdullah have fallen victim to Afghanistan’s ethnic and geographic fault lines. Ashraf is a Pashtun who won strong support in the country’s east and south. Abdullah has the backing of northern Afghanistan’s Tajik and Hazara communities. Abdullah won the first round and he thinks that during the runoff, Ashraf has benefited from massive fraud orchestrated by the Karzai government and that the rigging has not been fully reversed by a United Nations audit.

However, both Presidential contenders have unanimity on strategic matters; for example, both Ashraf and Abdullah support signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US and a Status of Forces Agreement with the NATO. These agreements would allow US military trainers and counterterrorism forces to remain in the country after this year. Without such agreements, all foreign troops are likely to be pulled out by the end of this year; and the flow of foreign aid and support would halt. However, at the peoples’ level, there is a strong opposition to these agreements; these are thought to be instruments for perpetuating foreign occupation of Afghanistan

Peace and stability in Pakistan is intricately linked to what happens in Afghanistan. Therefore, during these trying times, Pakistan looks-up to Afghan leadership to demonstrate pragmatism and come out of the on-going political morass and effect a smooth political transition.

The writer is a freelance columnist.