Afghan Election 2009: Candidate Profiles

A look at some of the candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election.

Afghan Election 2009: Candidate Profiles

A look at some of the candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election.

Wednesday, 5 August, 2009

The August 20 Afghan presidential election will be contested by 41 candidates including two women. More than 3,000 Afghans are competing for provincial council seats on the same day. The United Nations mission in Kabul said on July 20 that 17 million ballot papers are being transported across the country, no small feat in a country where it could take days to reach some of the more remote polling stations. More than 1,600 civic educators are briefing voters with an 11-page flip chart detailing the process, while a toll-free elections hotline – its number is 190 - is taking 30,000 to 40,000 calls a week.

Here are profiles of some of the candidates:

Hamed Karzai

Karzai was chosen to lead a power-sharing government at the end of 2001 after Afghan groups met in Bonn to establish an interim government following the fall of the Taleban.

He first attracted significant international attention in January 2002 when as a suave, westernised, intellectual, he attended a conference in Tokyo and was instrumental in persuading donors to pledge more than four billion US dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan.

A Loya Jirga (grand council) held in June 2002 made him interim head of state despite charges that he was a US stooge and he was formally elected president in 2004.

Despite widespread disaffection with government corruption and the ineffectiveness of his administration, Karzai is generally thought to be ahead by a wide margin.

The only poll taken so far, conducted by the US International Republican Institute, showed Karzai gaining 31 per cent of the vote, comfortably ahead of his nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who received just seven per cent.

Hamed Karzai was born in 1957 and was educated in Simla, India. He comes from the Pashtun ethnic community and was born in the one-time Taleban stronghold of Kandahar in the south of Afghanistan.

Abdullah Abdullah, Independent

Following the overthrow of the Taleban in 2001, Abdullah Abdullah was appointed minister of foreign affairs, and was one of only a few to retain their position after the 2004 presidential elections.

Abdullah was the last standing member of the Northern Alliance to be part of the Karzai government, only to be removed from the post in March 2006.

Trained as an ophthalmologist, Abdullah graduated from Kabul University’s Department of Medicine in 1983.

In 1985, Abdullah left Afghanistan to work for an Afghan refugee hospital in Pakistan. Shortly after, he became involved with the Northern Alliance and became a close associate of Ahmed Shah Masood, the legendary commander who battled the Soviets and the Taleban, only to be assassinated two days before the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

As Massoud’s spokesman, Abdullah had a close relationship with the “journalists of the jihad” who covered the Afghan-Soviet war.

During his time as foreign minister, Abdullah became one of the best known faces of Afghanistan helped by his fluency in French and English.

He is running as an independent, despite having originally been proposed by the National United Front, a loose association of those in opposition to Karzai. The Front is now almost defunct, since two of its most prominent members – Abdullah and Marshal Mohammad Fahim – are now rivals. Fahim is running as Karzai’s first vice president.

Abdullah is widely seen as the only candidate with a chance of stealing certain victory from Karzai on August 20. His growing support could rob the president of a first-round win, which requires 50 per cent of the vote plus one.

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai

Current chairman of the Institute of State Effectiveness, Ashraf Ghani, who was once in the running to succeed Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the United Nations, launched his campaign for president of Afghanistan on May 7, 2009.

At a time when corruption runs rampant, Ghani is pledging to lead a government that carries out its “legitimate mandate efficiently and transparently,” according to his campaign website.

Ghani has done extensive work on rebuilding nation states and launched “radical and effective reforms” including a new currency in Afghanistan, according to the Technology, Entertainment, Design, TED, conference, where Ghani was a speaker in October 2006.

A brilliant thinker but a lacklustre politician, Ghani’s campaign has been flagging somewhat. He seems to have been loathe to engage in the kind of intimidation and horse-trading that has shored up the electoral bids of his two main rivals.

Ghani has been relentless about challenging Karzai to public debates. The president initially accepted, only to drop out just one day before a three-way contest with Ghani and Abdullah.

Election watchers are betting on a last-minute deal between Abdullah and Ghani, a combination that could have a real chance at unseating the incumbent.

Ramazan Bashardost

Former Afghan planning minister Ramazan Bashardost is running an unconventional presidential campaign even by Afghan standards. Rather than using an office, his campaign headquarters is housed in a tent outside parliament.

He travels the country in a ramshackle truck, and boasts that his entire expenses for the first month of the campaign came to 10,000 afghani (200 US dollars). By contrast, President Karzai has spent more than 80 million afghani.

Bashardost has been called Afghanistan’s answer to Ralph Nader.

An ethnic Hazara, Bashardost has no tribal or political ties. He invites people of all backgrounds to his political tent, an atmosphere that he says makes him more accessible to the Afghan people.

Once a member of the Karzai government, he became a harsh critic after he turned down thousands of dollars in perks and questioned the amount of money being given to a plethora of NGOs.

Although he is a long shot for the presidency, Bashardost’s policies have gained much attention, including those on the Taleban, which he says is not fighting an ideological war, but rather a war against the corrupt officials who have been put in place by the American government.

Often called crazy by other government officials, Bashardost is quick to reject the claims, saying it is the government officials who abuse their power and drive luxury vehicles at the cost of Afghan citizens and foreign taxpayers who are the crazy ones.

"In Afghanistan, values for some people mean luxury, corruption and bodyguards. When an MP refuses this kind of life, they say I’m crazy," Bashardost told Reuters in a June interview.

Frozan Fana

One of two women on the list, Frozan Fana is the widow of a murdered cabinet minister and wants to carry on his work.

"The best way to avenge a martyr is to carry on his vision," 40-year-old Fana told AFP in May.

"Everyone knows Doctor Abdul Rahman was a dove of peace," she says of her late husband, the first post-Taleban aviation minister who was thrown out of a plane on the ground, stabbed and beaten to death in 2002.

The murder was portrayed as the product of spontaneous anger from pilgrims prevented from travelling to Mecca, but many believe political rivals were responsible.

Asked if Afghanistan is ready for a woman president, she said, "Why not? The constitution says any Afghan can be a candidate, be it a man or a woman."

Shahla Ata

Lawmaker Shahla Ata, in her mid-forties, wants to become the first woman to run her country.

"The people have tested men, but they did not get anything. Now, why not see what a woman can do?" Ata told AFP in May.

In her office hangs a poster of former president Mohammad Daoud Khan, killed in his palace with his wife, several children and siblings in an April 1978 coup by pro-Soviet Afghan communists.

"I want to achieve the unaccomplished goals of Mohammad Daoud Khan," Ata says of a leader who promoted progressive ideals, including women's rights.

Ata invokes Daoud in her campaign posters, placing her own image beside his on billboards around Kabul.

She said the government of President Hamed Karzai had failed to deal with Afghanistan's huge opium problem, weak administration and the plight of refugees and young people.

To deal with the raging Taleban insurgency, she would offer talks or devise "policies to defeat them", she said.

Ata is confident that she will give Karzai, the favourite, a run for his money. "I know I can do it, I am strong," she said.

Sayed Jalal Karim

Sayed Jalal was born in 1969 to a modest Pashtun family in Kabul and rose to become a successful businessman, his professionally designed website says. A child prodigy, he was courted at the age of nine by some of America's most prestigious institutions of higher education, including Columbia University, he says.

He and his father were forced to go to Moscow by President Hafizullah Amin and he studied Russian, mathematics and physics but also rebelled.

He says he has established, developed, and sold more than a dozen successful companies, including several based in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. His business partners have included multi-national corporations and members of the royal families from different countries in the Gulf.

Sayed Jalal has also acted as an international negotiator and mediator and has advised foreign government and the United Nations about Afghanistan.

“He believes in a government that represents the people of Afghanistan, not one that is a coalition of political factions formed along ethnic, sectarian and regional lines,” the website says.

Mirwais Yasini

Mirwais Yasini is a law graduate and first deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament. Born in 1962, he and his family took refuge in Pakistan after the communist coup of 1978 and he worked with the mujahideen. He got his law degree in Islamabad in 1991.

Yasini built political connections in opposition to the Taleban in the 1990s. In 2003 he became director general of the counter narcotics department and in 2005 deputy minister in the department.

Stressing his relative youth, he says on his website, “I am 46 years-old and have the vision and the energy to work tirelessly for my country and people. I intend to make Afghanistan a responsible member state of the international community.”

Shahnawaz Tanai

Lieutenant General Tanai was chief of the Afghanistan army and minister of defence under the Soviet-backed regime of the 1980s.

In March 1990, Tanai launched a coup with the help of renegade mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar against the then president Mohammad Najibullah, Tanai’s erstwhile friend. The coup failed and Tanai fled to Pakistan. Some reports say he later defected to the Taleban. He has also been accused of working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

Tanai is regarded as a leader of the Khalq (the masses), an influential faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan.

Mulla Abdul Salam Rockety

Mulla Abdul Salam Rockety is a former member of the Taleban. He earned his nickname for his skill with a rocket launcher when fighting with the resistance against Soviet forces in the 1980s

When the Taleban seized power in most of Afghanistan, Rockety served as governor in the southern province of Uruzgan, where he gained a reputation for toughness.

After the fall of the Taleban in 2001, he sided with the coalition-backed government and became a negotiator in talks with the Taleban and a member of parliament. He is said to be popular in the Pashtun areas around Kandahar, where tales of his former bravery are still told.

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