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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs