News / Asia

Column: Afghans Face Stark Choice in Presidential Vote

An Afghan woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-sharif, Apr. 5, 2014.
An Afghan woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-sharif, Apr. 5, 2014.
Spozhmai Maiwandi
As the field of presidential candidates has whittled from eleven to two, it has become clear that Afghans have a stark choice in the runoff this month.

It’s one between an established, old-guard candidate with more than 30 years of experience navigating internal Afghan politics and a moderate, Western-educated newcomer who is interested in change and progress.

What do we know about Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani?
 
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
x
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
Abdullah, 54, is trained as an ophthalmologist, who received his medical doctor’s degree at Kabul University’s Department of Medicine. He has long been involved in Afghan politics, joining the resistance following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Abdullah  won 45 percent of the vote in the general election. He will be facing Ashraf Ghani, who won 31.6 percent of the votes in the April 5 election.
 
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014
x
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014
Ghani is a relative newcomer to Afghan politics. He was in the United States, earning his Ph.D.in cultural anthropology when pro-Communists came to power and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

Ghani  remained an academic in the United States until joining the World Bank in 1991. Ghani returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, working on the transition to a new, popularly elected government.   

Both Abdullah and Ghani were members at various points of the outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet. Abdullah served as the Foreign Minister and  Ghani as the Finance Minister.

A longtime close companion and adviser of the Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, Abdullah both benefits and is adversely affected by that association.
A recognized name with a noted history of fighting the Soviets with the opposition Northern Alliance, Abdullah has widespread support among former partisans.

But  his history with the Northern Alliance during the Soviet occupation and the subsequent Afghan civil war makes Abdullah subject to  criticism and is considered by some Afghans a continuation of the status quo.
 
Both men ran for president of Afghanistan in 2009.

Abdullah finished second to current President Hamid Karzai and qualified for a runoff after the discovery of fraudulent ballots caused Karzai’s vote count to fall below 50 percent.

But Abdullah refused to go to a second round and conceded the election.

Hindsight gives insight

In an interview with the VOA Afghanistan Service in February 2014, Abdullah said that his experience and learning from the mistakes of his last campaign would help him win the election.

Ghani finished a distant fourth in the 2009 election with less than 3 percent of the vote.

This year, as in 2009, he relied on his education and experience in the Western world to run  a campaign specifically against “business as usual” in Afghan politics.
His status as a relative newcomer carries with it a hopeful promise of change, but also carries charges of him being too far removed from Afghan history and concerns.

Ghani’s experience working as a World Bank officer in a number of conflict zones is considered by many to be his chief advantage in the election.

With an economy mainly supported by international monies, Afghanistan is desperate for leadership that deals with corruption.

With his background, Ghani can implement economic policies for growth and job creation.

Choosing sides

In a February 2014 interview with VOA, Ghani emphasized the importance of rule of law as Afghanistan transitions to greater economic independence in the coming years. His supporters consider  Ghani a voice of change, moderation, and modernization in Afghanistan.

As the election hangs in the balance, major players wheel and deal in the background.

Candidates who did not garner enough votes to participate in the runoff are choosing sides and allying themselves with either Abduallah or Ghani.

Zalmay Rassoul, the candidate supported by Karzai  finished third in the general election. He endorsed  Abdullah during  a formal ceremony.

Notably absent from that ceremony was Rassoul’s running-mate, Ahmad Zia Massoud, the brother of the assassinated  Northern Alliance commander,  Ahmad Shah Massoud.

But instead of supporting his late brother’s ally, Massoud  threw his support to Ghani.

Another presidential candidate, fifth place finisher Gul Agha Sherzai, threw his support behind Abdullah. But half of Sherzai’s party has split.

Abdul Rab Rasool Sayaf, the leader of one of the Soviet era mujahideen factions, who finished fourth in the general elections, has announced his support for Abdullah.

In addition to currying favor by seeking powerful alliances with the other candidates, both Abdullah and Ghani have announced key members of their tickets in order to cast a wider net for support.

Abdullah has selected friends from his Jihadi days—former Hizb-e-Islami (Islamic Party) Intelligence Chief Engineer Mohammad Khan, a Pashtun from Ghazni Province, as his first vice prresident; and as the second vice president, Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq a Hazara Shiaa from Bamiyan province.

Ghani put forward General Abdul Rashid Dustom, an Uzbek from Jawzjan province, and Sarwar Danish, a Hazara Shiaa who was a former Minister of Education, as his two running-mates.

With their choices, both candidates reveal the necessity of balancing interests along mujahideen, ethnic, and religious lines.

Challenges ahead

Whoever prevails will face some major challenges as president.

Both men consider security a major concern and have addressed the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban.

“It depends on what they want,”  Abdullah said in an interview with VOA’s Afghan Service. “Are they in favor of a negotiated settlement or not?  If the Taliban or the majority of them think that a continuation of war is the solution, then no, peace will not prevail and the wishes of the majority of Afghans will not be fulfilled.”

Abdullah added that the outcome of talks with the Taliban depends on Pakistan. He said   if Pakistan decides that the training nests of terrorists have to be eliminated, then it might be possible to have peace,”  adding that giving up hard fought rights for women and education cannot be the price for peace and security for Afghans.   

In an interview with VOA, Ghani said that Taliban concerns about the presence of international forces should not be linked to talks. 
 
“Yes, as soon as the talks start, the international forces will be out," he said. "They are in Afghanistan for a reason and the reason is lack of peace and security. As soon as security is maintained, they will leave."

Both  Abdullah and  Ghani have said that, unlike President Karzai, they will sign the Bilateral Strategic Agreement with the U.S., which has been a sticking point of ruffled relations between Kabul and Washington.

By all accounts, given the changing landscape of last-minute alliances, the election is entirely up for grabs and could go either way.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More