Afghan deja vu: Abdullah to run for president

Former foreign minister plans to run again, pledging to clean up corruption and be responsive to Afghans’ needs.

Kabul, Afghanistan – On a recent morning, Abdullah Abdullah was seeing visitors in the garden of his Kabul home. A dozen men and women waited patiently to see the former foreign minister and soon to be presidential candidate, to pay their respects, and talk about issues that concern them.

“The people of Afghanistan are confused,” Abdullah says. “They don’t know what sort of Afghanistan they are heading towards and that is because of a lack of vision.”

Abdullah says there’s an atmosphere of total mistrust prevailing today between the government of Afghanistan and the people.

“There is no doubt if you ask ordinary people, men and women on the street, do you like this government, they will say no, it’s because of corruption, injustice, [and an] absence of the rule of law.”

Abdullah says he wants to rebuild that trust, to help the Afghans regain the hope that was prevalent here in 2001, after the US invasion drove out the Taliban. He acknowledges there have been many mistakes made in recent years, on the part of the government as well as the international community, and he would like to change that. One of his priorities would be to tackle corruption in the judicial system and the government.

“If the security situation does not turn Afghanistan into a failed state, widespread corruption has the potential to turn Afghanistan into a failed state,” he says. “I don’t have any problems with the stated policies on paper in fighting against corruption, but when there isn’t a political will, nothing will change.”

If the elections are worse than before, the people will be utterly disappointed

by - Abdullah Abdullah, presidential candidate

He concedes it will be a mammoth task; corruption pervades the government and all official offices. Most Afghans expect to pay bribes to get documents, register a car, or do almost anything that involves the state.

Fair and free elections

Abdullah ran for president in 2009 as an independent candidate, and garnered just over 30 percent of the vote. He dropped out of the runoff election because of widespread allegations of fraud. Al Jazeera reported that fake voter ID cards were being sold. He is hoping that next year’s elections, scheduled for April 5, 2014, will be better run.

“When we say elections, we mean free and fair elections. Yes, of course, there will be challenges in that regard, but we shouldn’t step backward. If the elections are worse than before, the people will be utterly disappointed and that will be a big blow to the efforts of stabilisation of the country and nation-building and state-building.”

President Hamid Karzai has publicly declared that the elections will go ahead as scheduled. In July, he signed two new election laws intended to fix some of the flaws of the 2009 vote. They limit the power the president has over appointing members to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and make the criteria for becoming a presidential candidate more stringent.

A United Nations official in Kabul says he believes invitations for international observers have been sent through the Afghan foreign ministry to the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and one or two other agencies. Those organisations can then decide how many observers might come to monitor the elections. Abdullah says he hopes this election will be better scrutinised than the last one.

Abdullah speaks to Al Jazeera about his campaign

“International monitoring will be required but where it is possible, where it is doable, because of the security situation. National monitoring is something that the political leaders which will be involved in the elections will have to focus on, the independence of both commissions are under question,” Abdullah said.

Taliban factor

Just after the presidential nomination process started in September, the Taliban killed a senior election official in Kunduz, gunning down Amanullah Aman, the head of the IEC, and announced the killing on Twitter.

This year Karzai’s government has so far unsuccessfully tried to engage the Taliban in talks. While Karzai says there has been dialogue with Taliban representatives, the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar was closed after the Afghan government objected to the Taliban portraying itself as a government in exile through raising the Taliban flag and employing the name it used when it was in power.

Karzai’s government would prefer the Taliban to have an office in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Pakistan’s release of Taliban prisoners including the group’s former deputy leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, doesn’t seem to have done much to move negotiations forward.

Abdullah says the Taliban have to change their ways if they want a future in Afghanistan.

“As long as the Taliban are terrorising the nation and making efforts to bring the system down and replace it with their own so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as long as they are associated with the terrorist organisations from around the world, and killing innocent people, masses, civilians throughout the country, they are denying themselves any constructive role in the process,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah is running as the candidate of the National Coalition Party of Afghanistan. His candidacy received a boost from the first Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who will back him, according to Fazl Rahmand Oria, the spokesman of the National Coalition Party.

Source: Al Jazeera