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FOCUS: AFGHANISTAN ELECTIONS 2009
Afghanistan polls: Main candidates
Al Jazeera profiles the top contenders for the presidential election in Afghanistan.
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2009 10:30 GMT

 

Afghans head to the polls to vote for a president and provincial council representatives [GALLO]

Afghanistan is gearing up for its second presidential poll since the Taliban was ousted by the US-led invasion in 2001.

Although, there are three frontrunners, Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president, is favoured to win.

The Taliban leadership has called the poll illegal and threatened to disrupt voting across the country.

Al Jazeera profiles the leading candidates and those making headlines.

Hamid Karzai, incumbent president

A number of polls have put Karzai in the lead on the eve of elections [GETTY]
In the lead is Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president, who has headed the government since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.

A member of the Pashtun ethnic group, who make up about 40 per cent of the population, Karzai has been campaigning in his constituencies in the country side but has consolidated support across ethnic lines, by choosing as his vice presidential running mate Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik and former commander of the Northern Alliance.
 
Karzai supported the US war on Afghanistan in 2001, which removed the Taliban from power and in December 2001 he was named the interim leader.
 
In June 2002, a Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan assembly, chose him as president of a transitional government, but some armed groups, including the Taliban, labelled him a collaborator with western powers. 

Karzai is the son of the chief of the Popalzai Pashtuns. Both his father and grandfather served in the government of Mohammad Zahir Shah, the former king, until 1973. After the Soviet invasion in 1979, Karzai family left Afghanistan and attended Himachal Pradesh University in India, earning a master’s degree (1982) in political science.
 
During the Afghan War against the Soviets, he worked with the mujahideen (Islamic term to describe a fighter for a just cause) to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. When the communist government of Mohammad Najibullah fell in April 1992, the mujahideen established a coalition government, with Karzai serving as deputy foreign minister.
 
In 1994, he resigned in protest of the infighting within the government. The mujahideen turned on one another, and amid the turmoil, the Taliban, an ultraconservative political and religious faction, rose to power.
 
Karzai's term as president ran out in May 2009, but due to security reasons, the elections were postponed to August 20.
 
Critics voiced concerns that maintaining his position would give him undue electoral advantage.
 
Karzai's opponents have said he has been ineffective in dealing with the Taliban, who have been stepping up their armed campaigns, and widespread corruption which has been a main obstacle to progress since his appointment in 2001. 
 

Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister

Karzai's greatest challenge comes from Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who served in the first post-Taliban government.

Like Karzai, he has been reaching across ethnic lines to try and strengthen his campaign which has been based on slogans of "hope and change", themes borrowed from last year's US elections, to try and beat the incumbent president.

Abdullah served as Afghanistan's first post-Taliban foreign minister
Abdullah has also been reminding the electorate of his friendship with slain mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who remains an iconic anti-Soviet figurehead for the Tajiks of Afghanistan and was popularly called the Lion of Panjshir.
 
Abdullah is also banking on his experience as Afghanistan's first post-Taliban foreign minister. He has said during his campaign that he wants to move the country to a parliamentary system.
 
Abdullah has brought two technocrats with no factional affiliations into his electoral ticket.
 
One is a Pashtun with a monarchist background and the other is a popular Hazara physician. According to one Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, this will be viewed positively by most Afghans who are eager to see less of a role played by names associated with "warlordism".

Ashraf Ghani, former finance minister

Ashraf Ghani (left) debated Abdullah in a televised forum; Karzai did not participate  
Ashraf Ghani, who according to a number of opinion polls, trails Abdullah in third place, is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

The 59-year-old is using his successful tenure as Afghanistan's finance minister and World Bank development strategist to convince the electorate that he is the candidate to turn the country's economic problems around. 
 
He has also played on national pride by promising to work out a timetable for eventual foreign troop withdrawal.

Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun, received a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. Ghani has spent more than two decades outside Afghanistan, working at different universities and for the World Bank.

In 2002, he served as special adviser to the United Nations and later as finance minister under Karzai.

In 2005, Ghani founded the Institute of State Effectiveness, aimed at promoting effective government, in the United States, where he lived at the time.

He has made the economy the centrepiece of his campaign and is promoting a 10-year action plan for the country, touching on economic development, the creation of one million jobs, women's rights and poverty. 

He has also played on national pride by promising to work out a timetable for eventual foreign troop withdrawal.

Ramazan Bashardost, former planning minister

Ramazan Bashardost, member of parliament and planning minister from 2004 to 2005, is an ethnic Hazara who received a Masters degree in diplomacy and political science and a PhD in law.

The 43-year-old is an ethnic Hazara who spent who has openly criticised the government and accused cabinet ministers of corruption.

Bashardost has modelled himself as a man of the people. While briefly serving as planning minister, Bashardost was critical of the role of aid agencies in Afghanistan and later resigned under government and foreign pressure.

Bashardost runs his campaign from a tent opposite parliament and has promised not to allow foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan if elected.

Mullah Salam Rocketi, former Taliban commander

Mullah Salam Rocketi is a former Taliban commander who now serves in parliament. He earned the nickname of Rocketi for firing rocket-propelled grenades and Stinger missiles during the war against the Soviet occupation.

An ethnic Pashtun, Rocketi, 51, is seen as a strong negotiator and was among a group of former Taliban members who went to Saudi Arabia last year to meet King Abdullah as part of Karzai's effort to persuade the Taliban to join peace talks.

Frozan Fana, one of two female candidates

Frozan Fana, 40, is one of only two female candidates and a surgeon who had gone into self-imposed exile in Europe. She returned after the fall of the Taliban and her husband has served as a cabinet minister in Karzai's government until he was killed at Kabul airport in 2002.

Fana says she also wants to hold talks with any Taliban fighters who agree to lay down their weapons.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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