Afghans on the edge

Afghans on the edge of landmark presidential polls

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: Afghans remain on the edge as the country’s landmark election process gains momentum amid collapsed peace talks between the US and Taliban.

The polls slated for Sep. 28 were largely overshadowed by the rejuvenated yet fragile peace parley until it was abruptly scrapped by US President Donald Trump last weekend.

A total of 16 candidates are set to compete in Afghanistan’s fourth presidential election after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Among them include incumbent President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, his power-sharing CEO Abdullah Abdullah and seasoned former Mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Incumbent’s race for re-election

President Ghani, a former World Bank economist, entered the race to remain in power with his election team of “Dawlat Saaz” [State Builder], promising to complete unfinished reforms. The 70-year-old has joined hands with former critic Amrullah Saleh — a former spy chief — and Sarwar Danish, as proposed deputies.

In the ethnically diverse Afghanistan, Ghani picked leading Uzbek entrepreneur Mohammad Yosuf Ghazanfar as part of his team, with himself representing the majority Pashtuns while Saleh represents Tajiks and Danish the Hazara community.

Ghani has challenged stalwarts in the Afghan political arena, who he managed to sideline during his five-year term. He has been dubbed as the architect-in-chief of the modern Afghanistan by the New Yorker owing to his extensive engagement in state-building following the fall of the Taliban. He has served in top security, finance, education and development positions before entering Kabul’s majestic Arg palace in 2014. His powers remained limited as a US brokered deal forced him to share power in the National Unity Government with his rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah.

According to official results of the 2014 polls, Ghani secured 4,485,999 votes amounting to 56.44% of the ballot. The bulk of his votes came from the eastern Nangarhar, Laghman, Nuristan and Kunar provinces, southern Kandahar, Helmand and Farah provinces, southeastern Paktika, Pakia, Khost and Logar provinces as well as northwestern Jawzjan, Faryab and Kunduz provinces.

A leading electoral watchdog in Afghanistan last month revealed results from its pre-poll survey pointing to a potential victory for the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani in the key upcoming elections.

The study by the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan was based on interactions with more than 5,000 people across the country. According to the study, some 43% of respondents said they would vote, while nearly 57% said they were not likely to take part in the elections. The majority of potential voters vowed to vote for Ghani.

Ghani’s rival uniting the opposition

Amid bitter political bickering, Ghani’s power-sharing Chief Executive Abdullah Adbullah has emerged as his leading competitor. Abdullah managed to attain the support of the leading Jamiat-e-Islami party and its leading figures such as Atta Mohammad Noor, Yonus Qanooni, Ismail Khan and Bismillah Khan, who quit the bandwagon of Mohammad Haneef Atmar, the former National Security Adviser — who withdrew his nomination at the last moment.

Abdullah was a close aide to Ahmad Shah Massoud — a national hero of Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet resistance. Later, he occupied key positions in the post-Taliban administration in Kabul.

Abdullah also enjoys the backing of ethnic Uzbek vice president Abdul Rasheed Dostum, as well as Mohammad Mohaqiq and Kareem Khalili, ethnic Shia-Hazara politicians. The CEO lost the chance to earn the support of Hekmat Khalil Karzai, an emerging ethnic Pashtun politician from the southern heartland of Kandahar. Karzai announced moments before the nomination of Abdullah that he would back no candidate, and would instead focus his efforts on bringing peace to the country.

Abdullah’s team is entering the race under the banner of “Stability and Integration” in his third election bid after the 2009 and 2014 polls. Abdullah’s first and second running-mates are Enayatullah Babur Farahmand and Asadullah Sadati, respectively.

Farahmand is an ethnic Uzbek born in Jawzjan, who holds a medical degree and has served as a professional journalist. He was a parliament deputy from 2010 to 2015, and the chief of staff of first vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum. A new entry in the Afghan political arena, Farahmand has the crucial backing of Dostum — who continues to wield unmatched support among the country’s Uzbeks.

Sadati, a Hazara deputy from the Daikundi province, is affiliated with the leader of the faction Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami and head of the High Peace Council, Muhammad Karim Khalili. Weeks ahead of the polls, Mohammad Mohaqiq also threw his weight behind Sadati, whose campaign is relatively more ethnicity-focused.

Abdullah has also taken onboard Anwarulhaq Ahadi, a Pashtun politician.

Abdullah had secured 3,461,639 votes in the 2014 presidential polls — equal to some 43.5% cast in the second and final round, particularly from the northern strongholds of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Samangan, Balkh, Parwan, Kapisa, central Bamyan, Ghazni, Daikundi and Ghor provinces, and western Herat and Badghes provinces.

The study by Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan indicated that Adbullah was most potential voters’ second choice after Ghani.

Potential for surprise

Seasoned Afghan Mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is arguably the most phenomenal senior figure to compete against a relatively younger lot of educated Afghans. The 71-year-old led Afghan Mujahedeen in trenches against the Soviets, and later engaged in deadly turf wars for power among the Mujahedeen camps in the 1990s before a long self-exile.

As the chief of his Hezb-e-Islami party, Hekmatyar is the only one among these three leading candidates challenging Ghani with no desire to change the system of governance from the current presidential democracy. Abdullah and Atmar both have pledged to create the post of the prime ministry and bring further changes, a longstanding demand of the Jamiat party.

Though failing to perform well in last October’s parliamentary elections, Hekmatyar’s nationwide party network remains largely intact. He favors a strong central government.

Rehmatullah Nabil, Ahmad Wali Massoud, Hakeem Torsan, Syed Noorullah Jalili, Sheda Mohammad Abdali, Enayatullah Hafeez, Ghulam Farooq Najrabi, Faramarz Tamana, Lateef Pidram, Mohammad Ibrahim Alakozay, Mohammad Shahab Hakimi, Noorul Haq Ulomi and Noor Rehman Lewal are also running for the top presidential post in the coming elections. (AA)

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