Friday, August 14, 2009

Afghan Elections: Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah

Two of the candidates running against Hamid Karzai in next week's Afghan presidential election are Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.

Ashraf Ghani is in the middle of this photo by Tyler Hicks.

In this morning's NYT, Carlotta Gall says (here) that Ghani is the most westernized of the major candidates. Ghani went to the American University of Beirut, got a doctorate in anthropology at Columbia, and taught at Johns Hopkins.

He served as Karzai's finance minister from 2002-04; in that role, he "instituted a centralized revenue collection scheme and oversaw the flow of billions of dollars of foreign assistance into the country."

Then, however, he became disillusioned with the corruption of Karzai's administration and resigned. Personality-wise, Gall describes him as aloof. It sounds like he's got some pretty well-defined goals for Afghanistan:

  • Increasing the number of mosques and madrasas (for education at the village level), plus more universities and women’s colleges
  • Closing the US detention center at Bagram within 3 years
  • Negotiating a cease fire with the Taliban

282. The idea of a cease fire with the Taliban sounds pretty radical. Where does Karzai stand on the fighting with the Taliban?

283. There has been a huge increase in the number of US casualties in Afghanistan in the past couple of months. Are we mounting multiple offensives -- is that leading to the increase? Or are the Taliban and al Qaeda becoming more aggressive? What are Obama and the military leaders doing to try to reduce the violence, or are they accepting that it must increase before it decreases?

Abdullah Abdullah is more popular than Ghani and is considered Karzai's most significant challenger. Abdullah used to serve as Karzai's foreign minister, and in the 1990's he was an important member of the Northern Alliance. By profession he's an opthamologist.

284. Now that Bill Frist is retired, who's the highest ranking US government official trained as a doctor?

Here's a photo of Abdullah and Karzai:

Here's Carlotta Gall in the July 23 Times on Abdullah:

"After serving as foreign minister in Mr. Karzai’s government for five years, he left in 2006 and has since become a strong critic of the president’s leadership. He refused an offer to become Mr. Karzai’s running mate, and he contends that the president practices a policy of divide and rule that has polarized the country.

Today, Dr. Abdullah, with a diplomat and a surgeon as his running mates, is seen as part of a younger generation of Afghans keen to move away from the nation’s reliance on warlords and older mujahedeen leaders and to clean up and recast the practice of governing."

According to a second article in this morning's Times, Abdullah is gaining momentum:

"Mr. Karzai’s campaign is gaining traction — he holds a favorable rating of 64 percent — but Mr. Abdullah is on such an upward swing that he could threaten the president if the election goes to a second round, one political analyst said.

285. Both of these guys sound like appealing candidates. Is the US doing anything (outwardly or "undercover") to promote either of their candidacies? I think I've read that Obama is disenchanged with Karzai, but has he done anything to try to strengthen others' positions? Or would signs of US favor actually be disadvantageous to them?

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