Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Rivals Put Themselves About

Candidates for the post of head of state at the Loya Jirga are stepping up their publicity campaigns.
By Danesh Kerokhil

For months the streets of Kabul have been plastered with pictures of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the late military commander and hero of the Northern Alliance.

But in the last two days, as contenders to become Afghanistan's next head of state make their positions known, three other portraits have joined him on the walls and windscreens of the city.

As of Monday, hundreds of large portraits of Hamed Karzai, head of the interim administration, ex-president Burhanudeen Rabbani, and Abdullah Wejdani, a leader from Nuristan, have been printed and hung around the capital.

"Hamid Karzai is the best candidate," said Qassim, a 32-year-old taxi driver. "He can make national unity."

Karzai's portrait campaign seems the best organised and financed. The leader of a Pashtun tribe which supports Karzai bought two printing presses from the United Arab Emirates for 45,000 US dollars and has been churning out pictures by the hundreds.

Mohammad Akram, secretary to Hashmet Ghani, head of the Ahmadzai tribe of Pashtuns, said Ghani had set up a printing shop on Street 15 of the Wazir Akbar Khan area, in the center of the city.

On the same street, some portraits belonging to Wejdani, a relatively unknown figure in the Afghan capital, had been torn down.

The portraits are reviving old political debates among ordinary Kabulis, anxious for news from the Loya Jirga on the country's next government. The portraits of Rabbani, who was president from 1992 to 1996 during some of the worst destruction of the Afghan capital, are particularly controversial.

Rafiullah Azizi, who described himself as a leader in the youth movement of Jamiat-e-Islami, the political representatives of the Northern Alliance, said his group only started putting up posters of Rabbani, the party's leader, when it became clear over the weekend that he would put himself forward as a potential candidate for head of state.

The proliferation of posters stands in stark contrast to the political culture of the Taleban era, when all portraits were considered blasphemous and banned.

Danesh Kerokhil is an IWPR trainee reporter.