Major presidential candidates in Afghanistan

Afghans are expected to democratically elect their president for the first time on 9 October. The candidates are a mix of old and new faces, representing an array of ethnic and regional interests.

Afghan interim president Karzai is Washington's favoured man
Afghan interim president Karzai is Washington's favoured man

This is a list of some of the more high profile candidates starting with current interim government president Hamid Karzai.

Hamid Karzai

“[The government’s] legitimacy will increase tremendously after the election. The government will be much more in power in terms of legitimacy but in terms of provision of services and the capability of the Afghan administration it will take some time for the country to do better.” Hamid Karzai – October 2004

Karzai, 46, is Afghanistan’s strongman and a powerful Pashtun leader. However, his power derives mostly from being the leader favoured by the US military administration in Kabul and Washington’s political elite.

Karzai worked as a consultant to Unocal, a giant oil company with significant oil interests in the region. He was handpicked to lead the country in December 2001, after the US chose Afghanistan as its first stop in its War on Terror. That choice was later confirmed in June of the following year by Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga or grand council.

Karzai has the image of the well-spoken, stylish and westernised leader. In the West, his image serves as the antithesis to the Taliban leaders’ anti-western profile. Karzai’s popularity in Afghanistan remains within Kabul, where his jurisdiction mostly resides.

Several attempts have been made to assassinate him. Taliban rebels, who seem to be rebuilding their strength in the war-torn country, have mostly been blamed for the attacks.

Vice-presidents: Ahmad Zia Masud (Tajik), Karim Khalili (Hazara)

Yunis Qanuni

Qanuni is Karzai’s  leading rival

Qanuni is Karzai’s  leading rival

“We are determined to continue our campaign for election.” Yunis Qanuni – September 2004

Qanuni rose to prominence after playing a primary role in the toppling of Afghanistan’s Taliban government in 2001 by the US. As a leading figure in the country’s Northern Alliance – the former Afghani coalition of regional commanders that helped overthrow the Taliban – he was rewarded for his position by being appointed minister of education soon after.

The 47-year-old Tajik is perceived as a chief challenger to Karzai, especially after the latter ditched his influential defence minister Muhammad Fahim Khan as his running mate. In turn, Fahim lent his support to Qanuni.

Qanuni’s constituency is based mostly in the Tajik region of Panjshir, north of Kabul, as he enjoys little nationwide appeal.

Vice-presidents: Taj Muhammad Wardak (Pashtun), Sayyid Husain Aalimi Balkhi (Hazara).

Abd al-Rashid Dustum

General Dustum is a powerful Afghan figure

General Dustum is a powerful
Afghan figure

“It will be clear very soon who is a war lord and who is the people’s lord.” Abd al-Rashid Dustum – October 2004

A former plumber and union boss in the 1970s, Abd al-Rashid Dustum is infamous for switching sides in times of conflict.

He formed Uzbek militias and supported the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. However, he later backed the opposition Mujahidin forces during the 1980s and allied himself to Ahmad Shah Masud. Later, he joined Gulb al-Din Hekmatyar against the Mujahidin government of Burhan al-Din Rabbani and Masud. He is now a US ally in its War on Terror.

Currently, Dustum, 50, continues to command his private militias near the northern Afghani city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Vice-presidents: Safiqa Habibi, Wazir Muhammad.

Dr Masuda Jalal

Jalal is the only female candidate in the poll

Jalal is the only female
candidate in the poll

“They want me to drop out of the election, maybe because I’m a woman running for the president’s office.” Dr Masuda Jalal – October 2004

Asked by her patients to stand for office, Dr Masuda Jalal, a qualified pediatrician, is the only female candidate in Afghanistan’s presidential elections.

Dr Jalal generated much media attention because of the transition she represents – from a doctor being denied the right to work under the Taliban to a female candidate for president just a few years later.

But Dr Jalal is more useful than a mere media “success story”. She is known to be a passionate and strong politician who challenged Karzai in the first Loya Jirga meeting after the ousting of the Taliban. She came second in the Loya Jirga vote.

Dr Jalal hopes to harvest plenty of support from Afghani women who make up two-thirds of the country’s population and who have suffered the most during the Taliban era and the US invasion.

Vice-presidents: Mir Habib Sahily, Sayyid Muhammad, Aaliam Amini.

Muhammad Muhaqiq

Muhaqiq is a former minister of planning 

Muhaqiq is a former minister
of planning 

“As a Hazara and a citizen of Afghanistan, I also have the right to ask my fellow Afghans to vote for me. I am going to prove that being Hazara is no longer a crime in this country and that one Hazara can also contest for the presidency of Afghanistan.” Muhammad Muhaqiq – 2004

Another regional commander running as an independent candidate, Muhammad Muhaqiq, is the leader of the Hazara minority group based mostly in central and northern Afghanistan.

The largely Shia Hazaras in the central part of the country are loyal to Muhaqiq despite the fact he hails from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. In his bid for the presidency, he is also counting on the support of the Hazaras who left the country as refugees and are now living in Iran and Pakistan.

Muhaqiq, 49, like other Afghani leaders, fought against the Soviets in the 1980s and was later incorporated into the interim government of Karzai after the US ousting of the Taliban. He was appointed vice-president and minister of planning, yet lost both posts respectively in 2002 and 2004.

Vice-presidents: Nasir Ahmad Insaf, Abd al-Faiaz Mhiraain.

Source: Al Jazeera

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