Who’s who: Profile of two Afghan Presidential candidates

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Afghanistan again has a tryst with history on June 14, 2014. The stage is set for the much-awaited runoff between two frontrunners, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. These elections will mark the watershed moment in the chequered history of this war-weary country. After sitting at the helm for 12 long, eventful years; President Hamid Karzai will finally step down and the highly fortified Presidential Palace will have a new high-profile occupant.

Here we profile the two candidates who will face off on June 14, in what has been described as the clash of titans and the ultimate political showdown.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah:

One of the strongest challengers in race for the 2014 elections, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is a powerful political figure in Afghanistan. He participated in the previous elections as well but had to beat a hasty retreat. This time, with his bête noire Hamid Karzai out of reckoning, he is fancying his chances to romp home victorious.

Born into a politico-religious family of Kabul in 1960, Mr. Abdullah had his primary education at Nadiria High School, and went on to study Ophthalmology at Kabul University. In 1983, he received his MD degree and joined as Resident Ophthalmologist at the Noor Eye Institute, Kabul.

In mid 1980s’, as the Soviet Union forces spread their web across the country, he joined the forces of resistance and played a pivotal role during those years. He worked as an Ophthalmologist at a hospital for Afghan refugees in Peshawar Pakistan and also served as the Director of Healthcare for the Resistance Front. After Mujahideen ousted Najibullah Ahmadzai’s government from Kabul, the eloquent Mr. Abdullah became the Spokesperson for the Defense Ministry of Afghanistan.

Politics ran in his blood, since his father served as Senator during King Mohammad Zahir regime. In December 2001, he was elevated to the coveted post of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the interim government led by Hamid Karzai. During the first tenure of Karzai as President, he reappointed Mr. Abdullah as Foreign Minister but unceremoniously axed him in 2006 to bring in Dr. Rangin Daftar Spanta. That did not go down well with Mr. Abdullah and he parted ways with President Karzai.

In the 2009 Presidential elections, Mr. Abdullah contested against President Karzai and it was projected as the clash of titans. But after the reports of fraud and bungling, a run-off election was announced; following which Mr. Abdullah withdrew himself from the race and accused the head of Independent Election Commission (IEC) Azizullah Ludin of rigging the elections to save Hamid Karzai from a defeat.

Abdullah is again in the race and this time his chances are strong. His first Vice-President is Engineer Mohammad Khan and his second Vice President is Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq.

In the first round, he topped the charts with 45 percent votes but failed to touch the magic figure of 50 percent votes, the absolute majority required to form the government. His chances are looking bright as many former candidates have endorsed his candidature.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai:

Born into an influential Afghan family in 1949, Dr. Ahmadzai spent his early days in Logar province. He had his primary and secondary education at Habibia High School, Kabul. He was exposed to politics since early days, as his father served the ruling dispensation in various senior capacities.

After finishing his secondary education, Dr. Ahmadzai went to Lebanon and enrolled at American University in Beirut, where he earned his first major degree in 1973. In 1974, he returned home to take up the teaching job at Kabul University, where he taught Kabul Studies and Anthropology. After three years, he went to Columbia University on a government scholarship to pursue Master’s in Anthropology.

During this time, pro-Soviet forces assumed power in his home country and he became politically more active. He stayed back in U.S. to complete his doctorate, following which he started teaching at University of California and John Hopkins University.

He joined World Bank in 1991 as an expert Anthropologist. After the Taliban regime was toppled in Afghanistan, he received an offer to be Special Advisor to UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Afghanistan. He returned back from the U.S. and played a key role in designing and implementing the Bonn Agreement. In the interim government, he served as Advisor to President Hamid Karzai and contributed to formation of Loya Jirga.

Dr. Ahmadzai has done tremendous work in the area of women’s rights and social justice, crisis and conflict resolution, empowering people in tribal societies, promoting and preserving the Afghan literature. He has also authored a book with Clare Lockhart Fixing Failed States: A Frame for Rebuilding a Fractured World, published in 2009, which talks about why past efforts have not worked to save failed states and offers a groundbreaking solution to the most pressing global issues.

In the last Presidential elections, Dr. Ahmadzai was tipped to be one of the leading candidates but he ended up with a meager 3 percent votes.

Abdul Rashid Dustom had backed President Karzai in the previous elections. In this election, he was likely to throw his weight behind Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, but due to some irreconcilable differences he took the other route and joined Dr. Ahmadzai’s camp.

In these elections, Dr. Ahmadzai is seen as a strong contender. He has appointed Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of Junbish Islami, as first Vice Presidential candidate; and Sarwar Danish, former Higher Education Minister as his second Vice Presidential candidate.

Mr. Ahmadzai ended up behind Mr. Abdullah in the first round, with 33 percent votes, much less than expected by many of his supporters. In the second round, with most of his fellow Pashtun candidates out of race, he is likely to put up a better show.

(First published in Afghan Zariza)


About Zafar Mehdi
Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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