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Condemnation Statement
Manzoor Pashteen: The young tribesman rattling Pakistan's army
When the man with the red cap speaks, thousands of Pashtuns listen
The Miranshah Jalsa
Abdul Qayum Mohmand, PhD
“Afghanistan – As Only Love Could Hurt”
Notes From A Broken Land
The Costs of War Taking Afghanistan as a Case Study
Full Report (PDF)
The Wrong Enemy in Afghanistan
Pashtun elders seek world’s help to banish terror
IS Taking New Strategy in Afghanistan

The Great Game Reconstructed
By: Abdul-Qayum Mohmand, Ph.D.

Security and Peace In Afghanistan Before and After 2014
By: Abdul-Qayum Mohmand, Ph.D.

Some Thoughts on Islamic Economics
Professor M. Siddieq Noorzoy
Relocate United Nations To Jerusalam To Harmonize Civilizations
By: Dr. Rahmat Rabi Zirakyar
The Nature of Statistical Data About The Afghan Economy and Their Problems
The Great Dangerous Game Revisit Afghanistan
An Open Letter to President Donald Trump Attending UN Meetings in New York
Abdul Haq: the Afghan commander who could have led to peace.

۱۴۰۰ لمريز کال
څو چې راغونډ پۀ يو مرکز يې نۀ کړم
هرې تپې ته د جرګو سره ځم


Preliminary Result of Afghanistan Presidential Contest

د ۱۳۸۸ ولسمشرۍ ټاکنې په اړوند بيلابېلي ليکنې او مقالي

Final Uncertified Presidential Result
(100) % polling stations tallied
16-Sep-09 2:00 PM
Vote Order Candidates Name Votes %
1 Hamed Karzai 3,093,256 54.6%
2 Dr. Abdullah Abdullah 1,571,581 27.8%
3 Ramazan Bashardost 520,627 9.2%
4 Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai 155,343 2.7%
5 Mirwais Yasini 50,461 0.9%
6 Shahnawaz Tanai 33,544 0.6%
7 Dr. Frozan Fana 24,279 0.4%
8 Dr. Habib Mangal 23,572 0.4%
9 Mulla Abdul Salam Rakity 22,173 0.4%
10 Motasim Billah Mazhabi 19,602 0.3%
11 Mohammad Sarwar Ahmadzai 16,957 0.3%
12 Abdul Latif Pedram 15,966 0.3%
13 Sayed Jalal Karim 14,588 0.3%
14 Mrs. Shahla Ata 11,412 0.2%
15 Mahbob-U-lah Koshani 10,718 0.2%
16 Alhaj Abdul Ghafor Zori 10,154 0.2%
17 Zabih-U-llah Ghazi Noristani 9,873 0.2%
18 Haji Rahim Jan Shinzad 7,633 0.1%
19 Abdul Jabar Sabit 6,891 0.1%
20 Mohammad Hashim Tawfiqi 5,275 0.1%
21 Dr. Ghulam Faroq Nijrabi 4,712 0.1%
22 Bismillah Shir 4,687 0.1%
23 Abdul Hasib Arian 4,560 0.1%
24 Eng. Moin-ul-din Ulfati 3,753 0.1%
25 Mulla Ghulam Mohammad Rigi 3,310 0.1%
26 Gul Ahmmad Yama 3,283 0.1%
27 Mohammad Akbar Oria 3,061 0.1%
28 Bashir Ahmad Bizhan 2,561 0.0%
29 Hidayat Amin Arsala 2,479 0.0%
30 Sangin Mohammad Rahmani 2,451 0.0%
31 Abdul Majid Samim 2,263 0.0%
32 Zia-ul-haq Hafizi 1,733 0.0%
  Total Valid Votes 5,662,758

  Total Votes 5,918,741  
  Invalid Votes * 173,200  
  Invalidated Votes * 82,783  
  * Invalid votes
* Votes invalidated due to candidates' withdrawl(s)

Abdullah Abdullah Campaign, A Complete Plagiarism
Afghan Pres. Skips Country's 1st TV Debate
A proud moment for Afghanistan
Rival to Karzai Gains Strength in Afghan Presidential Election
Afghan presidential candidate withdraws in Karzai's favor
Afghanistan’s ‘Predatory’ State - Ghani, Talked to NEWSWEEK
Karzai’s gimmick
The electoral debate starts in the North
Karzai tells Taliban to vote in Afghan elections
Karzai invites Taliban to vote in election
Fahim shouldn't be Karzai's running mate
Karzai accepts rivals’ debate challenge
U.S. adviser: No preferred candidate in Afghan poll
Afghan group slams Karzai's 'warlord' vote ticket
Corruption crusader aims for Afghan Presidency
Housing, jobs top priorities: Ghani
Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai accused of compiling coalition of 'gangsters and warlords'
Karzai Victory Is Just the Ticket for Regional Commanders
Afghan Presidential Candidate Takes a Page From Obama's Playbook
Election campaign echos political diversity in Afghanistan
Afghanistan's Karzai defends choice of vice-president
Afghanistan election campaign opens amid security concerns, disorganization
Mohaqeq: Karzai to Share Power, if Re-elected
Obama Issues Statement on Afghan Elections
Statement of Kai Eide
UN envoy calls on candidates to campaign with dignity
Crucial to ensure credible Afghan polls
Dark horse seeks Afghan presidency
Forty vie to unseat Afghanistan's Karzai
Poll Shows Drop in Support of Karzai
د ډاکټر اشرف غني د دفتر مطبوعاتي اعلاميې
د ميرويس ياسيني کمپاين خپرونې

د رمضان بشر دوست کمپاین

د ولسمشرۍ ټاکنې په اړوند بيلابېلي ليکنې او مقالي
Abdullah Abdullah Campaign, A Complete Plagiarism
41 candidates on ballot for Afghanistan president

Hamid Karzai's brother 'attempting to rig Afghanistan elections'
Source:  Telegraph, UK By:    
Supporters of Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, are reportedly preparing to rig voting in next week's elections in parts of the country where Taliban violence threatens to intimidate voters and affect his traditional support base.
Some of the vote-rigging is allegedly being orchestrated by Mr Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Times reports.

Reports of vote-rigging will intensify international concerns over electoral fraud across the south of Afghanistan and could threaten the credibility of the election process.
There could also be violent demonstrations in the north if Mr Karzai is thought to have stolen the vote.

Several locals in Helmand have detailed attempts by supporters of Mr Karzai to collect or buy voter registration cards from residents.

One tribal elder in the Marja district of Helmand alleged that the vote rigging was being organised by members of Mr Karzai's family and local tribal allies, particularly Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, the former governor of the province.

"In Marja and other districts we can't vote because of security problems," he told the paper. "We are continuing to buy the cards. I am one of the people responsible for collecting cards in Marja. We bought the cards for $30 (£18)." The man, who asked not to be identified, said that other elders were also collecting cards for Mr Karzai.

"Behind the curtain it is the brother of Mr Karzai and Sher Mohammad Akhundzada who are working on this," he said.

Wali Karzai and Mr Akhundzada have been accused frequently of involvement in drugs smuggling by Western officials.

Wali Karzai, who firmly denies the narcotics allegations, is the head of the provincial council of Kandahar province and Mr Akhundzada is a member of the Upper House of the Afghan parliament. Neither could be reached for comment.

 President Karzai’s supporters ‘buy’ votes for Afghanistan election
Source:  TIME By:  Tom Coghlan  
Supporters of President Karzai are preparing to rig voting in next week’s presidential elections in unstable parts of Afghanistan’s south as Taleban violence threatens to intimidate voters and hit turnout in his traditional support base.

The Times has talked to several witnesses whose reports will bolster suspicions within the international community that there will be electoral fraud across the south, some of it allegedly orchestrated by Mr Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.

Such irregularities could threaten the credibility of the election process and have led to threats of violent demonstrations in the north if Mr Karzai is thought to have stolen the vote.

Several tribal leaders and local people in Helmand described a systematic attempt by supporters of Mr Karzai to collect or buy voter registration cards from local people.

One tribal elder in the Marja district of Helmand alleged that the vote rigging was being organised by members of Mr Karzai’s family and local tribal allies, particularly Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, the former governor of the province.

“In Marja and other districts we can’t vote because of security problems,” he said. “We are continuing to buy the cards. I am one of the people responsible for collecting cards in Marja. We bought the cards for $30 (£18).”

The man, who asked not to be identified, said that other elders were also collecting cards for Mr Karzai.

“Behind the curtain it is the brother of Mr Karzai and Sher Mohammad Akhundzada who are working on this,” he added.

Wali Karzai and Mr Akhundzada have been accused frequently of involvement in drugs smuggling by Western officials.

Wali Karzai, who firmly denies the narcotics allegations, is the head of the provincial council of Kandahar province and Mr Akhundzada is a member of the Upper House of the Afghan parliament. Neither could be reached for comment.

Another tribal elder in Marja said: “The tribal elders in all the districts are organising this. They buy the voting cards for money or mobile phone scratch cards.”

Threats from the Taleban meant that few people in outlying districts of the province would be able to vote, he said. British military commanders insisted that 90 per cent of Helmand’s population would have access to polling stations but there is no Afghan government presence in five of the thirteen districts in Helmand.

British forces have spent the past month attempting to clear the populous Nad Ali district of Taleban fighters before the elections. Ten British troops were killed in Operation Panther’s Claw, with a total of 22 operational deaths in July.

Haji Mohammad, from Marja, said that he sold all his family’s voting cards because there were no polling stations in his area. He said that he did not want Abdullah Abdullah, Mr Karzai’s main rival, to win.

“I don’t think most of the districts will vote in the election,” he said. “When this team goes to other districts they will buy many votes because everyone is poor, everyone needs money and they can sell their votes.

“When they came to me they said, ‘If you don’t vote then Dr Abdullah will win’. That is why people think it is a good reason to sell their votes. We want Karzai to win the elections.”

Alex Strick van Linschoten, a research analyst in Kandahar, said that there were reports of similar schemes in several districts including Zarai, Panjwai and Maiwand, with local police participating in the process.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission has accredited 160,000 observers to attend polling stations. However, the country’s main monitoring agency, the Afghan Free and Fair Elections Foundation, said that it would have observers at only 70 per cent of stations because of security concerns.

Western diplomats said that precautions designed to prevent fraud would be ineffective in insecure districts of the south, where election monitors could not go.

Hamid Karzai 'will not' win Afghan election outright
Source:  Telegraph, UK By:  Ben Farmer  
The US government-funded poll found that the president of Afghanistan led his rivals by a wide margin, but lacked the 50 per cent of the vote necessary to avoid a second round.

The poll put Mr Karzai on 36 per cent of the vote and his nearest rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah on 20 per cent among registered voters.

A fifth of Afghans are still undecided or would not answer the survey, the poll by a Washington-based research firm reported.

The Karzai campaign rejected the results of the poll. Waheed Omer, spokesman for the president's re-election campaign, said it was confident Mr Karzai would win in the first round.

A credible August 20 poll is a key plank of Western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai had seemed certain until recently to win against a divided and feuding opposition.

But the campaign has come to life in recent weeks with the emergence of Dr Abdullah, leading the main opposition grouping including remnants of the Northern Alliance which helped toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Mr Karzai won the country's first presidential election in 2004 with 54 per cent of the vote, but has since faced disillusionment over corruption, slow reconstruction and growing insecurity.

A United Nations election monitoring report this week said there was mounting evidence that Mr Karzai's government officials were using state resources to swing the vote in his favour.

It also said rising Taliban killing and intimidation was hampering election preparations.

Dr Abdullah told The Daily Telegraph a second round would galvanise his support.

He said: "The people will learn that in spite of some rigging, in spite of the government using the state apparatus, the state money and so on, all the government officials working in favour of one person, they couldn't win and the people will realise it's the final push."

Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and anti-corruption minister, has seven per cent of the vote and Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister, has three per cent, the research by Glevum Associates found in the second week of July.

Many observers and Afghan politicians fear a protracted election or perceptions of widespread fraud could trigger unrest and split the country along ethnic fault lines.

Mr Karzai a Pashtun, has his greatest support in the south, while Dr Abdullah, who has a Pashtun father and Tajik mother, is well supported in the north the poll found.

The poll was released as Mr Karzai announced he would invite the Taliban to a Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council, to try and restart stalled peace talks.

The fighters would have to first lay down their weapons he said.

The Afghan government has hired 10,000 tribesmen to protect this month’s presidential election, an Afghan official disclosed, raising the possibility that village militias could be enlisted to fight the Taliban.

The men will be paid $160 a month and use their own guns to secure polling stations in 21 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces Arif Khan Noorzai head of the Independent Directorate for the Protection of Public Properties and Highways by Tribal Support said.

 ECC fines presidential candidates
Source:  PAN By:    
KABUL - Eight presidential candidates have been fined on the basis of complaints from the Independent Election Commission (IEC) that they failed to file or presented late their second interim campaign finance reports.

The Electoral Complaints Commissions (ECC) imposed fines on, and issued warnings to, the presidential hopefuls for their failure to submit campaign finance reports to the IEC by the July 18 deadline.

Three of the poll contenders did not submit their reports at all and were fined 20,000 afs each while the rest presented the reports after the deadline had run out. They were fined 5,000 afs each.

Nasrullah Arsalai was fined 70,000, Abdul Hasib Aryan 5,000 afs, Abdul Majid Samim 20,000 afs, Ghulam Mohammad Regei 5,000 afs, Mohammad Nazir Anis 5,000 afs, Ghul Ahmad Yama 20,000 afs, Bashir Ahmad Beijin 5,000 afs and Abdul Ghafur Zari 5,000 afs.

Arsalai was fined an additional 50,000 afs for making derogatory statements regarding the authority of the ECC, The statements were found to be in violation of the Code of Conduct for candidates.

The ECC said in a press release it would continue to monitor the filing of campaign finance reports by the presidential nominees throughout the electoral process.

 Support for Karzai, Abdullah swells
Source:  PAN By:  M. Yousaf Hotak  
  KABUL - Another political group Sunday pledged support to President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential elections, slated for August 20.

Senior leaders of the United Islamic Party (UIP), headed by Waheedullah Sabawoon, assured the incumbent president of their backing at a meeting here today.

Speaking on the occasion, Sabawoon hailed Karzai as the most suitable candidate for presidency. He said the president -- enjoying a better reputation than all his rivals -- and thus deserved a second term in office.

In other news, hundreds of people from Istalif area of Kabul promised to back another presidential hopeful, former foreign minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. 

Addressing participants of the gathering, Abdullah remarked August 20 -- Election Day -- would be a day of victory and deliverance from suffering for the Afghan masses.

Similarly, Abdullah also won a strong support vow from a political entity named Majma-i-Siasi Rah-i-Naw. Karzai and his ex-foreign minister are the leading contenders for the top slot.

 Afghanistan hires 10,000 tribesmen to secure polls
Source:  AP By:  RAHIM FAIEZ  
KABUL — Authorities have hired some 10,000 Afghan tribesmen to protect this month's presidential election, an Afghan official said Tuesday, raising the possibility that village militias could be enlisted to fight against the Taliban.

The hired guns highlight attempts by authorities to bolster security in Afghanistan's insurgency-hit provinces but also underscore a renewed focus on raising tribal militias to deal with the growing Taliban threat just as Sunni Arab militias were engaged to help reduce violence in Iraq.

The new force will initially help secure polling centers in 21 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces during the Aug. 20 election, said Arif Noorzai, the head of the Independent Directorate for the Protection of Public Properties and Highways by Tribal Support.

"We are trying to provide security for the polling centers and pave the way for the people to participate in the elections," Noorzai said. "They are filling the places where there are no police or the government has a shortage of security forces."

Zemeri Bashary, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said the new force will not be armed by authorities or given uniforms and will only assist the security forces in the areas where they live. Maqbool Ahmad, an aide to Noorzai, said they will carry their own weapons, which the tribesmen registered with authorities.

The community-based force has echoes in the American military's efforts in Iraq to form alliances with Sunni Arab tribesmen. The Sunni militias helped turn the tide in Iraq, contributing to a dramatic reduction in violence, but friction has arisen between the militias and the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

The members of the new Afghan force have been hired from the communities where they will serve, and will be paid $160 monthly for their work, Noorzai said.

Afghan election officials have provided security forces with a list of some 7,000 polling centers where voting should take place. Security forces have not yet determined how many of those centers can be secured on polling day. Hundreds are likely to remain shut because of fears of violence.

Almost all problematic polling centers are in areas where the largest ethnic group, Pashtuns, live. Low turnout in such areas could harm President Hamid Karzai, himself a Pashtun. Karzai is the leading candidate in opinion polls, and most observers expect him to win a second five-year term.

There are over 100,000 U.S. and NATO troops in the country as well as 175,000 Afghan soldiers and police. But in a country of 33 million people with rugged terrain, few roads and scattered population, providing security during an active insurgency is difficult.

It was not immediately clear whether authorities plan to institutionalize the new force and eventually fold it into the country's security architecture after the elections. Militias in Afghanistan have a bad reputation for their role during the civil war that engulfed the country after Soviet troops left in late 1989.

The Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s partly by offering to get rid off such militias.

Noorzai said it was unlikely that the militias would attempt to coerce voters at the polling centers because they would be protecting their own districts, which means the voters will be from their own tribes.

Ahmad said that authorities will decide about the future of this project after a month.

  US, Afghan troops launch operation to protect vote
Source:  AFP By:    

KABUL — US Marines and Afghan soldiers launched an operation early Wednesday against insurgents in Afghanistan's troubled south aimed at preventing disruptions to upcoming elections, the Marines said.

Operation Eastern Resolve II deployed 400 Marines and sailors and 100 Afghan soldiers to a Taliban stronghold of Helmand province, said Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Afghanistan.

In a statement from Camp Leatherneck, in central Helmand, he said the aim of the mission in Naw Zad district was to prevent Taliban fighters from acting on threats to disrupt presidential and provincial council elections next week.

Afghanistan's second presidential election is due to take place on August 20 amid Taliban threats to prevent voters getting to polling booths and widespread fears of suicide attacks.

"Our mission is to support the Independent Election Commission and Afghan national security forces," Nicholson said.

"They are the ones in charge of these elections. Our job is to make sure they have the security to do their job."

Helmand is one of the world's main poppy-producing regions and a route for Taliban fighters crossing the border from Pakistan to join the insurgency.

International forces have been operating in the province's centre and south in recent months in an effort to push out Taliban forces and secure populated areas of the vast region ahead of the elections.

 U.S. Officials Looking at Karzai Rival for Key New Post
Source:  The Washington Post By:  Joshua Partlow  
KABUL - Senior American officials are expressing renewed interest in a post-election plan for Afghanistan that would establish a chief executive to serve beneath President Hamid Karzai if he wins a second term next week, Afghan officials said Monday.

The latest U.S. overtures have focused on Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who is challenging Karzai for the presidency. A campaign aide to Ghani said Monday that both Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and regional envoy Richard C. Holbrooke had made recent visits to explore the idea, a sign that the United States might be interested in an Afghan government with a more technocratic bent.

American officials have grown increasingly disenchanted with Karzai's leadership over the past five years, amid rising Taliban violence, rampant corruption and an ineffective bureaucracy. The idea of a chief executive for Afghanistan has circulated before in recent months, and speculation at one point arose that former U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American, was in the running.

Ghani, a former finance minister with a doctorate from Columbia University, has worked for the World Bank and has a reputation as a competent technocrat. His work on Afghanistan's currency and budget during his time as a finance minister has drawn positive reviews, although colleagues have sometimes found him abrasive. As one of the main challengers to Karzai, who is the clear front-runner, Ghani has no plans to drop out of the race before the Aug. 20 election. He has been actively campaigning for president and plans to visit six provinces in the next eight days.

"I've been approached repeatedly; the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it," Ghani told reporters over the weekend, according to Reuters. He has not ruled out a position in the government if he loses.

Ongoing Negotiations

A spokesman for Karzai, Wahid Omar, would not confirm the specific offer from Karzai, but said there have been ongoing negotiations between the two campaigns. "Karzai does believe it is a good idea that someone like Ghani joins the team, and as a result the future government would be a stronger government," he said.

An Afghan official familiar with the negotiations said that Ghani expressed willingness to serve in a Karzai government, but that he wanted power to implement his own programs. The official, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, said negotiations on the issue were ongoing.

In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. The U.S.-government-funded poll by Glevum Associates, conducted July 8-19, had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote.

During the campaign, Karzai has courted support from warlords, such as his running mate, Marshal Mohammed Fahim, the powerful Tajik leader, and Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, an Uzbek commander accused of slaughtering Taliban prisoners in 2001. American officials have said they are concerned that important jobs after the election may be given away in patronage without a focus on competence.

An Antidote to Karzai?

Some see Ghani as a modern managerial antidote to Karzai, who is known more as a dealmaker among rival factions.

"Karzai doesn't think in terms of growth in GDP in Afghanistan, unemployment, more services or security," said Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research & Policy Studies. "He's a consensus builder. As long as he could win a consensus of important power brokers, he thinks he's a very successful man."

The jockeying came amid further violence in Afghanistan, which has intensified ahead of the elections.

Taliban fighters using assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the governor's office and police headquarters in Logar province, killing at least six people, according to Afghan officials.

The attack set off hours of urban combat in the provincial capital of Pul-e-Alam, about 40 miles south of Kabul.

About half a dozen Taliban fighters staged their attack from a building adjacent to the governor's compound, firing automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades beginning about noon. A car bomb also exploded during the fighting, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman, while others described evidence of a suicide bombing. Din Mohammad Darwish, a spokesman for Logar's governor, said two policemen died along with four Taliban members.

"It was very serious fighting. We could hear a lot of machine-gun fire," said Abdul Hakim Suliamankhel, head of the provincial council in Logar. "The people are really scared now."

The Afghan National Police led the counterattack against the Taliban, eventually surrounding and entering the building, which they found rigged with explosives, according to a U.S. military statement. The police killed three Taliban fighters inside the building, Darwish said.

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

 UN: Hamid Karzai's government using state resources to swing Afghan election
Source:  Telegraph, UK By:    
The United Nations said there is growing evidence that Hamid Karzai's government is abusing state resources to help him win this month's presidential election in Afghanistan.
An election report released said monitors had received increasing reports officials were biased and were using their resources to campaign for Mr Karzai.

Rival candidates were being denied access to national state television and government cars or lorries were being used to ship people to rallies.

The report, by the UN mission to Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said: "These reported breaches of impartiality tended to be in favour of presidential candidate Karzai."

The recent replacement of three key police chiefs with supporters of Mr Karzai "gave a cumulative impression that they were politically motivated", it added.

The report said the Karzai government had done little to stop the abuses and they were threatening his rivals' ability to run for office.

It also warned Taliban intimidation and violence were hindering election campaigning and preparation.

Credible presidential elections on Aug 20 are key to international efforts to stabilise Afghanistan in the face of worsening Taliban violence.

Diplomats fear that a poor turn out, or widespread fraud, would hand the Taliban, which has officially called for an election boycott, a propaganda coup.

International officials have said instances of fraud are inevitable, but hope they can be kept to a minimum and not alter the result of the election.

Kai Eide, UN special representative to Afghanistan, said: "If you are talking about free and fair [elections] in terms of an established democracy, then I think that goes beyond the expectation of a country like Afghanistan."

The lacklustre campaign has ignited in recent weeks with the emergence of Dr Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister, as a potentially strong rival to Hamid Karzai.

However the report warned insurgency violence and growing Taliban intimidation were both hampering free campaigning.

Insurgents have killed election officers and campaign workers in recent weeks.

Candidates have been unable to hold rallies or campaign in large swathes of the south and east.

Intimidation and insecurity have hindered women campaigners and candidates most.

The report said: "Anti-government elements have intensified their intimidation tactics to discourage participation." Analysts fear a low voter turn out in large reaches of the Pashtun-dominated south where the insurgency is strongest.

Dr Abdullah told The Daily Telegraph that Mr Karzai had so far "not hesitated" in trying try to manipulate the elections.

He said: "He has not hesitated so far in the process, by using the state apparatus, state resources and many other things.

"But can you steal the verdict of a nation?"

Mr Karzai remains the favourite for the elections after building a strong coalition of former warlords and strongmen from the country's ethnic power bases.

He must win more than 50 per cent of the vote on August 20 to avoid a second round run off.

 Afghanistan's Karzai leads in voter survey
Source:  Earth Times By:    
Kabul - A voter survey conducted by a US-based organization in Afghanistan showed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai leads the presidential race with 36 per cent of the electorate supporting him, but still not enough to win in the first round. The survey, funded by the US government and conducted in the country's 34 provinces between July 8-17, showed Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minster, the closest competitor for Karzai with 20 per cent support.

The country's second presidential election is scheduled for August 20.

The survey of 3,566 Afghan adults showed that Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, and Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister, were the two other top candidates from the pool of 41 candidates which also includes two women.

"Ramazan Bashardost and Dr Ashraf Ghani received support from 7 per cent and 3 per cent of registered voters, respectively," Glevum Associates Social Science Research & Analysis (SSRA), which conducted the survey, said.

"The remaining 37 candidates all are at less than 2 per cent in the survey, and collectively they get just 13 per cent of the vote," it said, adding that 20 per cent of the respondents were undecided, or refused to answer.

Karzai is supported by 45 per cent of the voters who already decided, while Abdullah receives 25 per cent, it said, adding, "As Karzai is below 50 per cent of the vote in this decided voter model, a runoff would occur if these numbers hold on August 20."

Ethnic polarization and regional differences in the level of support for leading candidates "are significant," it said, adding that Karzai had big leads over his nearest rival Abdullah in his fellow Pashtun areas of the east and south-west, with margins of 45 per cent and 52 per cent respectively. Abdullah was slightly ahead among his main supporters, the Tajik voters, with plus 4 per cent.

The survey is the first of its kind since the presidential campaign began in around mid-June. In another opinion poll in May, Karzai got 31 per cent support, while Abdullah only got 7 per cent.  

 Karzai has big lead in Afghan voter survey
Source:  AP By:    
A new poll of Afghan voters shows President Hamid Karzai with a big lead just 10 days before the country's presidential election, but still short of the support needed to avoid a run-off.

Karzai has the support of 45 percent of those surveyed. His closest competitor, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has 25 percent.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 20 election, the top two finishers go to a run-off.

The poll by the Washington-based Glevum Associates surveyed 3,556 voting-age Afghans nationwide in mid-July. The poll has a margin of error of 1.6 percent.

The survey is the first to be conducted in the country since campaigning began.

 Polls: Karzai could face run-off
Source:  Al Jazeera By:    
A US-funded poll has indicated that Hamid Karzai, the incumbent Afghan president, might not gain enough votes in the elections on August 20 to avoid a second run-off.

Although the survey of 3,566 Afghans showed Karzai was likely to get 36 per cent of the vote, with his rival Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, second with 20 per cent, he would not pass the 50 per cent threshold needed to be re-elected.

Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, were expected to come third and fourth with three and seven per cent of the vote respectively, Washington-based firm Glevum said.

Hashem Ahelbarra, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said Karzai's spokespeople were happy with the findings "because it shows the huge gap between him and his main rival Dr Abdullah".

"They are saying that they are confident that Karzai will win the race in the first round with more than 50 per cent of the vote," he said.

But Ahelbarra added it "remains to be seen whether Karzai will accept to work with a prime minister and share power. He has been saying up to this moment that he is the man of consensus".

In another opinion poll in May, Karzai received 31 per cent support, while Abdullah only received seven per cent.

Taliban 'chaos'

The surveys, which were the first since the presidential campaign began in mid-June, were published as Karzai urged Afghans to take part in the vote.

"The elections will pass peacefully ... the enemies of Afghanistan will try to create some chaos, [but] you don't bother about it," he said at a high school on Tuesday.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the August 20 presidential elections, and have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks.

On Monday, six suicide bombers attacked the governor's compound and elections offices in Logar province, south of the capital, Kabul.

A United Nations report has said that security fears in many parts of Afghanistan were hindering preparations for the presidential election to be held on August 20.

The report, compiled by the UN mission in Afghanistan and Afghanistan's independent human rights commission (AIHRC), said insecurity had "severely limited freedom of movement and constrained freedom of expression for candidates".

In some areas there have been no campaign rallies and concerns remain that voting may not be possible in some parts of the country.

A final list of areas where voting will be able to take place is expected to be published on August 15.

The elections are crucial for Western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, where more than 90,000 foreign troops are fighting the Taliban.

 Abdullah Abdullah: Karzai's Main Challenger
Source:  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By:  Abubakar Siddique  
KABUL/PRAGUE - On a bright summer day, amid the towering mountains surrounding the Panjshir valley north of Kabul, locals recently voiced their support for Abdullah Abdullah.

The crowd cheered him as their favored candidate in Afghanistan's August 20 election, and lauded him as a comrade of the late Afghan guerilla leader Ahmed Shah Masud -- Panjshir's most prominent son.

Abdullah is prominent among a generation of young Afghans who take pride in having fought alongside Masud during the "jihad" against the Soviets in the 1980s, and in having participated in "maqomat," or resistance, against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the 1990s.

His campaign seems to have mobilized the constituency. During a recent campaign event in the northeastern Kundoz Province, local leader and Abdullah supporter Moulavi Mouhmmad Azim Azimi said the Afghan people wanted "fundamental changes in the form and make-up of the current political system."

"They also want the rights of thousands and millions of martyrs of this nation who all died defending our religious values and protecting the security of our people and improving their economic prospects," Azimi told the gathering of tribal leaders, clerics, former fighters, and youth.

Guerilla Leader's Doctor

Abdullah, 48, was born in Kabul to an ethnic Pashtun father who was appointed to the Senate by Afghanistan's last king, Zahir Shah. After earning his degree as an ophthalmologist during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in early 1980s, Abdullah migrated to neighboring Pakistan. But upon returning to his mother's native Panjshir, he became a close confidant and personal physician of Masud.

Polyglot and urbane Abdullah became Masud's spokesman when the guerilla leader was named defense minister after the communist regime collapsed in 1992.

In the following years, the Afghan capital was decimated by factional infighting among the various Mujahedin factions. As a new hard-line Islamist militia, the Taliban, swept across Afghanistan in the mid 1990s, Abdullah emerged as the chief diplomat to the governing coalition opposing the movement.

When U.S. Special Forces and bombers were in the last phase of bringing down the Taliban regime years later, Abdullah claims to have proposed during the December 2001 Bonn conference that Hamid Karzai be named the country's new leader. He went on to serve as a foreign minister in the interim, transitional, and elected Karzai administrations before being replaced in 2006.

Abdullah now sees an opening in the failure of the administration he left three years ago. With many Afghans expressing disappointment with the inefficiency and corruption that has plagued Karzai's government, Abdullah is running under a banner of "hope and change" and remains adamant he can turn things around.

"He [Karzai] has turned a golden opportunity into a disastrous situation. The people will ask [him], 'How will you turn things from a disastrous situation to a better situation?'," he tells RFE/RL. "I don't think the incumbent is capable of that. Afghanistan needs change, and I represent that change through my programs and my plans and my strategies."

Whether dressed in smart business suits for indoor meetings and media interviews, or in Afghan robes and headgear while canvassing the public, Abdullah projects the image of a modern Afghan at ease with his "jihadi" past and integration into the modern world.

People who have worked closely with him praise his leadership and diplomatic skills. Octogenarian former Afghan diplomat Ravan Farhadi, who represented Afghanistan at the UN from 1993 to 2006, has expressed admiration for his former boss, who took over as a caretaker foreign minister in 1999.

While representing a government that increasingly lost territories to the Taliban onslaught, Abdullah delivered crushing diplomatic blows to the hard-line movement.

"During the Taliban reign, he supervised...the functions of the Foreign Ministry from outside Afghanistan because the Taliban did not control the foreign offices outside the country and our mission in the United Nations," he tells RFE/RL adding that "the Taliban were unable, despite Pakistani support, to enter the UN for one minute."

Though running as an independent, his campaign has received support from significant parts of the Jami'at-e Islami -- a faction of the Afghan version of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated by ethnic Tajiks.

He has also gained backers from within the now-divided United National Front, which emerged as a broad coalition of Islamists, former communists, and royalists in opposition to Karzai.

On the back of a formidable political machine, Abdullah is considered to be the man with the best chance among the three dozen challengers of garnering enough votes to force a runoff with Karzai.

Support For Parliamentary System

Abdullah is promising political transformation, the crux of which is to change Afghanistan's five-year-old presidential form of government to a parliamentary one led by a prime minister answerable to the parliament. He wants to devolve power to the local level with elected governors, mayors, and local administrators.

Although Afghanistan's political elite compromised on the issue after heated debate during a Loya Jirga in 2004, Abdullah suggests that apart from the United States, presidential systems have not succeeded.

"When you see a presidential system, it has led to autocracy. And unfortunately, what's happening today is that distance between the people and the government, which is growing -- the government which is not accountable to the people," he says.

"Part of it is leadership, part of it is management, part of it is the system itself. So there [in a parliamentary system] people's participation can be ensured -- broader participation -- as well as the accountability of the government."

Abdullah suggests that his diplomatic skills will come in handy as the idea of reconciling with moderate Taliban, whether significant leaders or foot soldiers, gains traction as a way of stabilizing Afghanistan.

Abdullah, who led the Afghan delegation to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Peace Jirga in 2007, claims he is the right person to do that because the current reconciliation efforts are shrouded in secrecy.

Abdullah says he knows "how to make peace and I think the conditions for making peace are better today than they were 10 years ago. But at the same time it needs, requires, understanding from all sides."

He suggests that "the first thing is the commitment for making peace. That's there as far as I am concerned, as far as our programs are concerned, and as far as our team is concerned," he says adding that "hopefully, with a sort of Afghan-led national reconciliation program, the door will be open."

Critics claim that Abdullah's close association with a political movement might tarnish his national appeal. In a recent one-hour long call-in show hosted by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, most questions asked by listeners dealt with his political past.

His detractors often point to Abdullah's time as a foreign minister, when he came under criticism for purportedly staffing the ministry with members of his faction.

But supporters say his message is attracting people from across the country.

Abdul Qadeer Daqiq, the head of Abdullah's campaign in the Western Farah Province, claims he has broad support among the people. He cites a recent event in the remote corner of Afghanistan during which hundreds of participants from all walks of life and ethnicities expressed their support for Abdullah.

"There were people from [Farah] city. Recent graduates of the high school and the head of the local youth council and their representatives all participated to declare their support," he tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

"The representatives of [Pashtun] Barakzais, Noorzais, and Tajik tribes have all expressed their support, as have those of the Shi'a [sect]."

With most senior "jihadi" leaders supporting and campaigning for Karzai's reelection bid, Abdullah's main challenge is to form, consolidate, and deliver a national coalition akin to the one his supporters claim to have in Farah.

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents, Hamid Mohmand in Kabul, Noor Mohmmad Sahim in Konduz, and Ahmad Shah Fekrat in Farah contributed reporting.

 Can economist woo Afghans?
Source:  The Star By:  Rosie DiManno  
Ashraf Ghani's vision impresses, but most of electorate can't read, let alone crunch numbers

KABUL - He looks like Gandhi or, more accurately, Gandhi as Oscar-portrayed by Ben Kingsley.

The wardrobe is invariably shalwar-kameez traditional, deliberate counter-optics to his widely critiqued image as made-in-the-West bespoke banker/bureaucrat, a candidate who had to renounce his American citizenship in order to run for Afghanistan's presidency.

He writes books about economics, was most recently chancellor of Kabul University, received serious consideration two years ago for secretary-general of the United Nations, enjoys a close relationship with political operators within the U.S. Democratic establishment and has even hired spin wizard James Carville – architect of Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign – as a consultant.

But Ashraf Ghani was clearly most in his element here yesterday, during a debate organized by the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce, the businessmen audience rapt and clapping as they listened to a candidate who speaks their dollar-sign language.

Unlike his co-challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (fiscal matters not the ex-mujahedeen's strong point), the former finance minister orated extemporaneously, utterly comfortable in the lexicon of economics and monetary policies. He spent a decade working for the World Bank, after all.

Amidst a presidential slate now culled to 36 contenders, Ghani, a non-aligned independent, is currently in third place, according to the polls, a Ghilzai Pashtun (that's good) undercut by a perceived poor grasp of the country's internecine tribal politics, with no traction among the kingmaker warlords (that's bad).

He can be acerbic and provocative, berating the administration of President Hamid Karzai at every turn as corrupt and incompetent. (Karzai declined to participate in yesterday's debate – which aired live on national radio – but called a press conference a few hours later to unveil his wide-ranging manifesto for Afghanistan.)

Ghani's resume bona fides include introducing a new Afghan currency during his finance ministry tenure, initiating the extraordinarily successful National Solidarity Program that has dispersed $500 million (U.S.) in World Bank aid to 23,000 villages and overseeing the private sector launch of competitive telecom companies – 7.5 million cellphones now in use, generating $1 billion in tax revenues for the government. Even poor goatherds in rural Afghanistan have cellphones.

The numbers are blinding. But in a country where 70 per cent of the citizenry is illiterate and big-picture macroeconomics incomprehensible, this is not the stuff of populist appeal.

Charisma is a quality Ghani lacks. And, in a wartime election, that PhD from Columbia means squat to most Afghans.

Yet the "management style" that Ghani offers as a president-cum-CEO might be just what Afghanistan needs most at this crucial time, if he can get voters beyond his core entrepreneurial constituency to listen up.

Economically, the nation is a mess, with unemployment among youth at a staggering 53 per cent, a factor that drives many young men – who have no Islamist ideology – into the arms of the neo-Taliban. Most rank-and-file fighters can be won over with a job, says Ghani, comparing these foot soldiers to his own 16-year-old students.

Afghanistan is awash in money from donor countries – $60 billion in aid from America alone since 2001 – but it doesn't filter down to those who need it most, while much of the income generated on the ground flies out the door with carpetbaggers, the out-of-state contractors who are getting filthy rich.

"We have the money but we don't have the capital," says Ghani. "Sixteen billion dollars in capital has been flown to Gulf countries."

While U.S. contractors are usually presented as the bogeymen in this lopsided equation, it is more commonly fellow-Muslim magnates reaping the awards of exploiting Afghanistan. Ghani advocates reforms that would put 80 per cent of international aid in Afghan hands.

"The black money needs to be changed to white. Until we are able to launder the black money, we will not succeed."

Examples: Afghans (Turkoman, mostly) produce high-quality rugs that are coveted the world over, yet this export trade is exclusively controlled by companies in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Further, some 70 per cent of construction contracts, says Ghani, are awarded to foreign interests, with Afghans providing only bottom-rung labour – if even that, with unskilled workers descending from neighbouring countries and sending their wages home.

"I cannot accept that we do not have construction capacity of our own. There is an economic mafia that we have to fight. We need to replace it with a legitimate economy. This is not rocket science."

Ghani's key proposal for stimulating the economy is to focus, at first, on eight stable northern provinces, creating economic "clusters" – using the National Solidarity Program model – that would eventually overlap, allowing investors to push deeper into at-risk areas in the south and east. Elsewhere in the country, at this point, investors are leery of kidnappings and damage to projects caused by insurgents.

It's a practical vision, but guaranteed to further displease factions in the south, already furious at being frozen out of reconstruction dollars.

Simultaneously, Ghani urges tariff-protected European countries to open up their markets to Afghan goods, particularly from the agricultural and mining sector. "NATO countries especially should be buying Afghan products."

The nation's economic revival – a potential $10 billion in revenue, Ghani claims – hinges on agricultural exports, mining and hydropower, with Afghanistan emerging as a regional provider of electricity rather than a net importer.

"Until we modernize agriculture, we cannot get rid of narcotics. Our economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages insecurity and funds the insurgency."

He is also the only candidate who has proposed a compulsory military draft, which would not only keep vulnerable young men away from the Taliban, but instill discipline and job training in idle, uneducated rural youth.

All of this, he insists, will reduce Afghans' dependency on foreign aid and, in time, allow for the removal of foreign troops.

Ghani is a man of many and precisely formulated ideas, who often emails several press releases a day to journalists and churns out op-ed pieces for The Washington Post and The New York Times.

But there's the rub: The audience he most impresses won't be voting in Afghanistan's elections.

 Ghani again challenges Karzai, Abdullah to debate
Source:  PAN By:    
KABUL Independent presidential candidate Dr. Ashraf Ghani has hit out at his rivals President Hamid Karzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for avoiding a debate on their programmes for the nation.

"Once again Mr. Karzai and Dr. Abdullah have decided debate is not in the interest of the Afghan people and are avoiding it because they have no coherent plans for the future of Afghanistan," the former finance minister said.

Instead of standing before the people to be judged, Ghani said in a statement on Saturday, they were using tricks and hiding behind flashy marketing campaigns.

The ex-chancellor of Kabul University argued Karzais failure to honor his pledge to participate in the most recently scheduled debate showed he did not communicate honestly with the Afghan people.

"Dr. Abdullahs failure to participate is both deceptive and hypocritical," Ghani said, accusing him of spending large sums of money to buy time for his carefully-crafted promotions on television, but chooses not to appear on television in a real debate.

The July 23 debate on Tolo TV and Azadi Radio was watched and heard by almost half the country, according to the press release. "We appreciate Tolos pioneering efforts and hope they will host another debate."

He urged both candidates to change their minds and participate in the debate. He also called on the Afghan Media Commission and the various networks to ensure all of the next scheduled debates were held.

In the absence of public debate the election process could not be credible, secure and inclusive, observed the presidential hopeful, who viewed debate as the essence of the democratic process.

Between October 2001 and June 2002, Ghani served as special advisor to the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, chief advisor to Chairman Karzai and executive director of the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority.

As finance minister from June 2002 to December 2004, he implemented wide-ranging monetary and fiscal reforms, earning the Asia's Best Finance Minister of the Year Award in 2003.

 Happy camper bids for Afghan presidency
Source:  AFP By:  Emmanuel Duparcq  
KABUL — Ramazan Bashardost is running for president from a saggy yellow tent near parliament in the Afghan capital. He has a manifesto and a mission to wipe out corruption, but not a hope of winning the election.

In his campaign outfit of black waistcoat over traditional white shirt and collar in the Afghan national colours green, red and black, Bashardost is a man of simple pleasures -- no luxury and no car, preferring instead to walk.

Over a cup of tea in a haberdashery on the Kabul campaign trail, the popular MP launches into a trademark attack on main contender President Hamid Karzai and his "corrupt, illiterate band".

Bashardost belongs to Afghanistan's fiercely independent minority, the Hazara, who are of Mongolian descent but whose numbers are too small to ever expect to control top office in war-torn and still deeply tribal Afghanistan.

The 48-year-old armed with a battery of degrees from Afghanistan and Europe, calls on the international community to "stop wasting taxpayers' money on the criminals and drug traffickers in power but instead put them on trial".

His answer to the insurgency plaguing the country, claiming record numbers of lives and threatening to overshadow the August 20 election? "The Taliban would certainly put down their weapons if we clean up government".

Bashardost has been back in Kabul nearly five years.

A son of civil servants with a doctorate from France, he lived in various French cities for 19 years, but was determined to repatriate after the US-led invasion ousted the repressive Taliban regime.

He shot to prominence on the political map in 2004 when he left his job as planning minister after a brief nine months in office coloured by diatribes against rampant corruption that made him many enemies.

Cultivating a humble image in a war-torn country that depends on billions of dollars of international aid to stay afloat, he was a year later elected into parliament for Kabul securing the third-most votes for the province.

"To cut down on petrol expenses" he moved into a basic 15-square-metre yellow tent (161-square-foot) that is opposite parliament and where he receives a never-ending stream of constituents and sleeps on an old camp bed surrounded by books.

Despite earning 2,000 dollars a month, Bashardost lives on the cheap. "I use 20 percent for living and distribute 80 percent to poor people, orphans and refugees," he said.

He lives alone and has never married. "You know what women are -- they want money to go to restaurants, to buy clothes. But how can I when my compatriots are dying of hunger or don't have a roof over their heads?" he told AFP.

In winter he courts family displeasure by bedding down at his father's house in a modest Kabul neighbourhood.

"My family is not so happy. They say that the family of a former minister, a deputy should have a big house, luxury, bodyguards."

Instead their errant son is running a 20,000-dollar campaign to become Afghan president using funds drummed up mostly from Afghans living abroad.

He claims to have trodden the campaign trail across half the country. While the big spending favourites dish up free meals to thousands of voters, Bashardost flogs posters and DVDs for just a few afghani (US cents).

Karzai and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, may be reluctant to commit to detailed electoral promises but Bashardost's elaborate, 52-point manifesto does not wash well in the largely illiterate country.

His speeches influenced by US President Barack Obama, tinged with calls for democracy and pleas to overcome ethnic-religious divides are too avant-garde in a conservative, rural country riddled with political-tribal alliances.

"He can cost the favourites Karzai and Abdullah some votes, but he should trail far behind. Some people say he can win five to six percent," said Haroun Mir, an analyst with the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies.

Adds an Afghan journalist observer: "He's well liked but people don't take him seriously. Because he promises an end to corruption, which everyone's swimming in, and because a president should be a sort of king, not a prophet in sandals."

At the end of the day, the sun dipping behind the mountains casts amber rays of light on the tent and Bashardost's face, concentrated on victory.

"We'll win. I predict a landslide. People loathe the political class and I'm clean, I've made so many sacrifices. I'm the only survivor," he said.

 Blow for Karzai in Election Campaign
Source:  Institute for War & Peace By:  Ahmad Kawush in Mazar-e-Sharif  
Split in a group supporting the president could harm his re-election campaign.

A key alliance supporting President Hamed Karzai’s re-election appears to be coming unglued with just ten days to go before the August 20 poll.

Junbish-e-Milli, the party and support base of Karzai ally General Abdul Rashid Dostum, has split, with a large and powerful arm campaigning openly for the president’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

When Karzai entered into the alliance with ethnic Uzbek strongman Dostum in late May, many saw it as a coup for both sides.

Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, at a stroke cemented his own position in the northern provinces, where Dostum holds sway, and undercut Abdullah, who was also courting the non-Pashtun electorate in the north.

Dostum has effectively been in exile in Turkey since last year but it had been assumed in Afghanistan that he would come home with a good chance of a role in any new Karzai administration.

The split throws into question Dostum’s plans for a speedy return and Karzai’s hoped-for secure first-round victory.

Just days ago, a major Abdullah rally in Maimana, the capital of the northern province of Faryab, featured prominent Junbish leaders. Their support strengthens what has already become a surprisingly robust challenge to Karzai’s seemingly unassailable re-election bid.

The split within Junbish dates from late July, when several of the party’s key figures abandoned the president.

“Karzai has had no achievements for the people of Afghanistan in the past seven years,” said Mawlawi Khabir, who calls himself the acting head of Junbish. “So I, along with other key figures of the party, after discussing this issue with our supporters, announce our endorsement of … Dr Abdullah.”

Those who had tried to steer Junbish towards Karzai were “frauds” and “tools in the hands of foreigners” added Khabir. Among them he named Sayed Noorullah, head of Junbish, along with Massoud Ahmad Massoud, head of the party’s youth branch, and several others.

“Without talking to the rest of us, and especially without consulting with the leader of our party, General Dostum, they announced their support for Karzai,” Khabir told IWPR. “They are misusing Junbish-e-Milli’s name, on their own initiative. They are selling our vote and the destiny of this party.”

Khabir’s main ally in his rebellion is Najibullah Salimi, who founded the youth movement of Junbish and still commands enormous power and respect within the organisation.

But Massoud Ahmad Massoud, the youth leader, rejected Khabir’s accusations, invoking the name of the founder to bolster his own position.

“I am every moment in contact with the founder and father of the Junbish party, General Dostum,” he said. “And the general has asked all of his supporters not to be deceived by these opportunists. He wants them all to work for the success of Karzai in the upcoming elections.”

Dostum himself is silent on the issue. He has been out of Afghanistan for much of the past year, since he had a very public altercation with a former ally, Mohammad Akbar Bai, that left Akbar Bai in hospital with internal injuries. Dostum has been quoted as denying the charges of violence and denying that he is in exile.

Neither side in the election dispute will confirm that Junbish-e-Milli, one of Afghanistan’s major parties, is in the process of a split or, worse, disintegration. But Afghan watchers say that it is hardly surprising that an organisation based solely on personal interest should fall apart once the central pillar – in this case, Dostum – was removed.

“These parties are not based on a real ideology,” said Mohammad Joyenda, a political analyst in the north. “Instead, they announce support for whoever promises them the most.”

According to Joyenda, support for Karzai came at a price: one branch of Junbish had received a considerable sum of money from the Karzai team, he added. But the funds had not been spread around, prompting another wing of the party to go searching for their own cash-cow.

Massoud confirmed the broad outlines of the deal, but not the particulars.

“There were frequently deals involving money conducted during the election campaign,” he told IWPR.

Afghanistan’s many parties – there are now more than 100 registered political groups - are often based more on ethnic, linguistic, or personal leanings than on ideology or a shared vision. This makes them particularly vulnerable to disintegration when interests or priorities shift.

But political analyst Ustad Sefuwat said that the alleged split might be no more than a savvy hedging of bets by the Junbish leadership.

“If Karzai wins, then one team will get power,” he said. “But if Abdullah becomes president, there will still be a Junbish faction on the scene.”

Karzai is still the clear favourite to win the poll, given the enormous advantages of his incumbency. He has been working hard for re-election over the past year or more, and many Afghans seem to be supporting him for no other reason than they want to be on the winning side.

But former foreign minister Abdullah has made a very strong showing over the past month, and the situation could still veer wildly to one side or the other.

Joyenda does not think that the split within Junbish will have a decisive affect on the election.

“Junbish is not in the position it was five years ago,” he told IWPR. “At that time hundreds of thousands of people, all of the Turkmen and Uzbeks, were supporting it. But several major disagreements and splits have lessened the trust people have in the party. People make their own decisions now. Before they had to listen to their leaders, otherwise they and their families could be in danger.”

Rameshgar, a writer and journalist in the north, agreed that Junbish had been weakened by many public spats and schisms over the years, as well as by a decrease in funding.

“When the money dried up many people left,” he said. “This process will continue.”

Dostum is a colourful and controversial figure within Afghanistan. He has a reputation for fierce, if unprincipled, fighting, having changed sides several times during Afghanistan’s long decades of war. He was one of the major government commanders under Najibullah, only to desert to the rebel mujahedin at the last moment. He switched factions often during the civil war, and no commander could ever be sure that Dostum was on his side.

He joined the central government in 2005, in the largely symbolic capacity of chief of staff to the commander in chief.

Mohammad Jawad, a student of political science at Balkh University, told IWPR that the split could be serious for the candidates, and possibly fatal for Junbish itself. With insecurity and apathy threatening to dampen the turnout among an estimated 17 million registered voters, every ballot counts.

“It is possible that Junbish is fading away,” he said. “And this could have a very big impact on the elections. If the Junbish vote is not divided, one million votes will go to whichever candidate Junbish supports.”

Ahmad Kawush is a pseudonym for an IWPR trainee in Mazar-e-Sharif.

 Afghanistan's presidential election campaign an exercise in peril
Source:  LA Times By:  Laura King  
The security problems exacerbate the logistical challenges in a country where road conditions are so poor and districts so remote that a 3,000-strong donkey corps is helping deliver ballots.

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Presidential candidate Ramazan Bashardost was on a routine campaign stop in the eastern Afghan city of Khowst one day last month when he heard a thunderous explosion. Then another. And another.

"It was very loud, and pretty close, and I of course understood right away what was happening," said Bashardost, one of nearly 40 contenders in the Aug. 20 presidential vote.

On that day, insurgents had attacked Khowst's provincial police headquarters and several other sites, triggering hours of chaotic street fighting. Like most people in town, Bashardost was forced to lie low for the rest of the afternoon. He finally slipped away at nightfall.

In this wartime election season, having Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers as campaign trail companions isn't particularly unusual. Assassination fears, insurgent threats, travel dangers, intimidation of candidates, especially the female ones -- all conspire to make the vote an exercise in peril.

The security problems exacerbate already-daunting logistical complications in a country where road conditions are so poor and many districts so remote that a 3,000-strong donkey corps has been deployed to deliver ballots.

Western observers say the unsafe environment increases the chances of large-scale voting irregularities, in part because violence may keep election observers away from some sensitive locales. Nine campaign workers have been killed in preelection violence. And Taliban fighters have sought to unnerve voters with attacks close to the capital, Kabul, including an assault Monday on government buildings in nearby Lowgar province that killed at least five people.

Nonetheless, Afghan authorities express confidence that voters will go to the polls in sufficient numbers to ensure a credible result in both presidential and provincial assembly races, even though election officials have said that insurgent activity could prevent up to 10% of polling stations from opening.

"Enemies of the country want to stop people from voting, but we are watching vulnerable points and trying to prevent attacks. This is imperative," Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said. "This election is one of the important moments in our history."

Afghanistan's only previous presidential election, in 2004, was overseen by the occupying Western powers. This time around, Afghan officials are taking the lead role, though the $225-million cost is being borne almost entirely by the international community.

A rapid American troop buildup this summer and a major U.S. offensive in Afghanistan's south were spurred in part by determination to ensure the vote could take place safely. But American and other foreign troops will deliberately refrain from being a too-overt presence on the day of the balloting.

"We will not be the first line of defense," said Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the chief spokesman for Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Western forces in Afghanistan. Afghan police will guard polling stations, with Afghan soldiers manning checkpoints, he said. International forces will keep their distance from polling centers, standing by primarily as a quick-response force in case of trouble.

In many races, security fears have put a distinct damper on campaigning. That is particularly true out in the hinterlands, where candidates for provincial assemblies tend to invite small groups of backers to private homes -- fine for cementing an existing base of support, they say, but of little use in wooing new votes.

Bilquis Roshan, a provincial council member in Farah who is running for reelection, says that in the 2004 campaign, she traveled the length and breadth of her far-flung western province, often simply turning up and introducing herself. People would invite her home for meals, and with Afghanistan's indefatigable tradition of hospitality, such a visit might last days.

This time around, with the Taliban menacing the outskirts of the provincial capital, Roshan counted herself lucky to have been able to make brief campaign appearances in her home village, just four miles away.

She brushed aside warnings from conservative local clerics who told her she was offending Islam by displaying herself publicly and should stay home. But because of the threats, she traveled under guard, something she said she found both personally distasteful and an obstacle to connecting with constituents.

"It's just very, very difficult for a woman to campaign," Roshan said.

Leading presidential candidates have demonstrated differing philosophies about the security risk. Abdullah Abdullah, the main rival to President Hamid Karzai, has campaigned all over the country, often appearing at large rallies where crowds come and go with only cursory security checks.

"My own safety is not something I am spending time thinking about," Abdullah said, though he travels with a large contingent of bodyguards.

Karzai, who has survived several assassination attempts during his tenure, has attended only a few campaign rallies, all with handpicked audiences. Aides say he intends to step up his schedule of public appearances as election day draws closer.

At a rally Friday in the capital, Karzai urged backers from the Hazara ethnic group to ignore insurgents' warnings against going to the polls.

"God willing, everything will go safely," he said.

Taliban commanders have not directly threatened to attack polling places, though they have urged people to stay home and have said roads will be "blocked." It's not clear whether they meant roads near polling places would be seeded with homemade bombs, a practice that already claims the lives of civilians and Afghan and Western security forces almost daily.

The danger is most acute in remote provinces where fighting has intensified in recent months. Mohammad Omar, the governor of the northeastern province of Kunduz, took advantage of a recent visit by McChrystal to plead for more Afghan police to help ensure election safety. Of 216 polling stations, he said, 24 were likely to stay shuttered on the day of the vote.

"The Taliban wants to destabilize this area in connection with the election," he told the general.

Analysts point out that there is ample precedent for national elections taking place in conflict zones. But violence -- or fear of it -- is bound to skew the result to some extent.

"It can be done, definitely," said Seth Jones, an Afghanistan expert with the Rand Corp. "It just can't be done perfectly."
Afghan dreams of a fair vote a logistical nightmare
Source: Toronto Star By: Rosie DiManno  

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN:- From a massive warehouse on the outskirts of the capital, ballots that were printed in the United Kingdom and stuffed into bright blue boxes here are loaded onto a fleet of trucks.

The precious cargo sets out for points north, south, east and west – conveyed on diesel fumes and a prayer.

But wheel power can take a modern election in medieval Afghanistan only so far. In some of the most remote regions of this mountainous country, with its topographical challenge of rivers that can't be crossed and peaks that can't be scaled, more traditional forms of transportation must be utilized: 3,171 donkeys.

And they don't come cheap – $300,000 is the tab for four-legged U-Hauls, rented from local wranglers who've been contracted to deliver those ballots to far-flung polling stations set up in schools, mosques, district council buildings and, where necessary, private mud-brick homes.

It is a logistical nightmare.

That headache is borne most especially by Daoud Ali Najafi, chief electoral officer of Afghanistan.

"In some regions, we have estimated that it will take three or four days for the donkeys to reach their destination," Najafi told the Star yesterday, his desk at the Independent Election Commission strewn with data that an assistant pushes aside to make room for tea. "In many parts of the country, there are simply no roads and nowhere for a helicopter to land either. So we do it old-style."

Apart from the donkeys, that means 3,500 trucks humping election materials to 7,000 voting centres and 28,500 smaller voting stations, strung across a network of 356 districts in 34 provinces.

Some 15 million Afghans have been registered to vote in the Aug. 20 presidential and provincial council elections, 5 million more than last time around, four years ago, which was the country's inaugural experience of democratic ballot-casting. The registration process began in October and was completed only this past week when staffers were finally able to venture into some of the diciest areas in Helmand province on the heels of a major Taliban-clearing operation by American and British troops.

"I emphasize that these are the most complicated elections I have seen,'' Kai Eide, UN special representative for Afghanistan, told reporters after touring the warehouse. "I mention to you how inaccessible the country is, how challenging the whole logistical operation is, and also the fact that this is a country in conflict."

Najafi merely shrugs when the security issue is raised. "We will do our best and hope for the best. The Taliban, they always say a lot of things to frighten people. Just like they said they were going to prevent the last election from succeeding – but they couldn't. There was not one single significant incident. So I am very optimistic."

At the moment, there are still 10 "black districts" on the board, areas in volatile provinces where the Independent Election Commission has been unable to establish any polling footprint. National security forces have promised Najafi they will open up some voting lifelines in all of them but nobody really believes that.

The worst-case scenario, says Najafi, is that one per cent of Afghans won't be able to access a secure polling station. "That's not enough to undermine the legitimacy of these elections."

Risk is a chronic fact of life in Afghanistan and the dangers of an election disrupted by insurgents obvious. Indeed, the Taliban posted a statement Thursday on a militant website warning that fighters have been ordered to block roads and prevent voters from reaching polling stations.

"All Afghans should stand together with the Islamic Emirate and should not participate in this American process," the statement added, mocking the elections as "planned and financed" by the United States.

That is not entirely rhetoric. Washington has ponied up at least $40 million (all figures U.S.) to bridge a shortfall in UN funding. This election is estimated to cost $220 million. But, unlike 2005, the whole shebang is being largely organized and administered by Afghans – 1,660 deployed as "educators" over the past 10 months to train polling staff, 3,000 district field coordinators and 164,000 staff on the ground, come election day. Upwards of 40,000 observers – international and domestic – will monitor the vote.

In fact, election fraud is weighing more heavily on Najafi's mind than some catastrophic Taliban intervention. Everyone here is keenly aware of the recent disputed electoral results in neighbouring Iran.

Irregularities in the registration process were thick on the ground, as reported in May by the Free and Fair Elections Foundation, with a multitude of bogus cards issued to a single voter and minors signed up.

Allegations of fraud and influence-peddling within the campaign, however, are the responsibility of the Elections Complaints Commission, which happens to be chaired by an affable Canadian elections veteran – East Timor, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan '05 on the resumé – by the name of Grant Kippen.

The Hamilton native has been in the country since February, charged with overseeing that these elections are conducted freely and fairly and as honestly as possibly. That means investigating and then adjudicating all complaints that can be supported by evidence.

"Is anyone being intimidated? Is defamatory language being used against a candidate? Are government officials interfering in the process? Bring us evidence to support the allegation."

Forty-two men and two women formally filed papers to run for president. The complaints commission tossed only three, including one who was proved to have links to an illegal armed group, which is forbidden by election charter. A further 54 of the 3,324 candidates for provincial councils were also excluded for affiliation with armed factions.

The Elections Complaints Commission, which has authority to expel candidates and even order re-polling, had received 320 challenges against applicants, 50 directed at presidential aspirants, including President Hamid Karzai, who's seeking re-election.

The vast majority of complaints were not substantiated or didn't point to anything afoul of the guidelines. Some – particularly from candidates griping about each other – were outside the commission's narrow mandate.

Complaints run the gamut. Kippen recalls two in particular from the last election – a man alleging a candidate had run off with his wife and another whinging that the $2,000 graft he'd paid a couple of inside workers to fix the results had been wasted; the "fixers" had simply absconded with his cash.

"He wanted me to get his money back," Kippen chuckles. "He didn't care that he was admitting to breaking the rules himself."

Kippen, formerly with Elections Canada and the UN, is among the few foreigners intimately involved with the election process, which is deliberately and self-consciously "Afghan-led."

One might very well wonder, though, how prepared Afghans are to assume such a responsibility themselves, this only their second national election as an embryonic pseudo-democracy.

"This is another historical opportunity for Afghanistan," Kippen argues. "We've done our best to be transparent, to reach out and engage different shareholder groups. There's really nothing that's led me to believe they can't do it.

"If not now, when?"

Abdullah Abdullah Campaign, A Complete Plagiarism

By: Ahmad Saleem
Around 20 million Afghans have watched the last Ashraf Ghani–Abdullah Abdullah debate on Tolo where Abdullah copied all his major responses from what Ashraf Ghani said. Unfairly, Ashraf Ghani was asked first and 3 minutes to respond and then Abdullah was asked the same question, means Abdullah had 3 minutes to prepare his response and listen to what Ashraf Ghani said.
Abdullah’s entire campaign slogans and speeches are plagiarism and copy of Obama/Ashraf Ghani. Even he has copied Ashraf Ghani’s website color scheme for his website and major quotes from Ashraf Ghani such as “Afghanistan under Karzai is a failed state”, “Afghanistan is becoming a Narco-state”, “20th August your day of victory” and Ashraf Ghani’s supporters slogan on Facebook “Your Vote, Your Choice, Your Future”.
You would be surprised to see that Abdullah Abdullah has also stolen Obama’s famous quote on his website and put it on exactly on the same location (the top web banner) as Obama’s. Please, check the website’s yourself and see the attached screen-shot I have taken from both the websites.

Afghanistan Independent Election Commission being a weak organization cannot identify and expose such breaches by candidate (Karzai & Abdullah) who are backed by warlords, narco-land mafia, and the human rights violators; but, the national and international media needs to write repots on this. The Afghan media instead of being sold out to Karzai or Abudullah should play its role—the role in reporting such violations and cases of stealing ideas to increase awareness of the Afghan public on who is there with a program and who is just a copy-paste with no idea of how to run a government or develop programs and policies.

What did Abdullah steal? here it is:
Organizing for america
“I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington... I’m asking you to believe in yours.” – Barak Obama

 Join the Campaing to Change Afghanistan
“I'm asking you to believe not only in my ability to bring about necessary change and hope in our beloved country, Afghanistan, but I’m also asking you to believe in your own potential to change the course of our history.” - Abdullah Abdullah

Afghan Pres. Skips Country's 1st TV Debate
Incumbent Bails on Presidential Debate, But Still Favored to Win as Country Continues Experiment in Democracy

Source: CBS
Like millions of Afghans, the Fazly family watched the country's first-ever major televised presidential debate on Friday.

Modeled on the style of U.S. presidential debates, the plan was to have the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai, take on his two main rivals.

But just 24 hours before airtime the Afghan leader pulled out, saying he didn't have enough time to prepare, reports CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark.

It's an excuse Khalid Fazly doesn't buy. "He would not be able to defend his activities and that is why he didn't appear for the debate."

Instead, Karzai's two closest rivals - former top World Bank official Ashraf Ghani and the president's own former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, soaked up two hours of prime-time television.

They both pointed to high civilian casualties as the primary reason for Afghan's opposition to foreign forces in the country - most of whom are Americans.

Despite the criticism, President Obama's special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, said the American presence is important, pointing to the on-going operation in Helmand.

"This election will take place on schedule, and Helmand will be able to participate thanks to this offensive that General Nicholson and his colleagues are directing," said Holbrooke, referring to a surge of U.S. Marines into the southern province to go after Taliban militants.

Karzai has been accused of running a lackluster campaign, but is still widely expected to come out on top. His no-show at the debate may not have even hurt his chances significantly.

Relations between Karzai and the U.S. are at a low point, with members of the Obama administration openly referring to Karzai's government as inefficient and corrupt.

To boost his re-election chances, Karzai has made questionable deals with former warlords - even selecting one as his running mate. That comes on top of the president pardoning five influential drug smugglers.

On June 27, Karzai hit back at the criticism from Washington, complaining about the American ambassador's attendance at a press conference of his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai said it amounted to foreign interference in the electoral process.

American Ambassador Karl Eikenberry argued that he's met many of the 41 presidential candidates and said the U.S. government is not picking favorites - merely supporting the election process.

The Fazly family is split on who to vote for, with two backing Ghani and two in support of extending Karzai's tenure.

Whether the debate will have the same impact on the Afghanistan's voters as political debates can in America is unclear. Democracy is still very much an experiment in this country.

A proud moment for Afghanistan
Even without Hamid Karzai, the first presidential debate was a historic

The Guardian - By: Nushin Arbabzadah
We were a generation that had never known happiness, spending most of our lives on the run, knocking on door after door. Our shoes were hand-outs from our neighbours, our dreams secondhand. We watched others support their presidential candidates, and then vote for them in terrifying excitement. But we didn't know what it felt like to elect your own president. We had become used to envying others for what they had. We had never owned anything.

Written in Dari, these were the words of the poet Reza Mohammadi, summing up the feelings of an entire generation about the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan. But today, Afghans had reason to be proud. The independent TV station Tolo aired live the country's first presidential debate. It ran smoothly. Regardless of the outcome, the debate marked a historic moment in the democratisation of Afghanistan.

Links and information were shared rapidly via Facebook, allowing expatriates and locals alike to watch and listen no matter how far they were from Kabul. Comments rained in, but the common feeling was one of achievement. "I wished President Karzai had attended the debate; he could have had a share in our success," said observer Qasim Akhgar in a follow-up discussion programme aired by Tolo TV and its sister stations Lemar TV and Arman radio.

Twenty-four hours before the broadcast, President Karzai had pulled out of the debate. His campaign team came up with a contradictory set of explanations. The invitation had arrived too late; the TV station has violated media laws. And then the recently banned Kabulpress website quoted Karzai's own characteristically bloke-in-the-bazaar words: "Brothers, first I need to know whether the guy who I'll be up against and debating with is an Afghan or not? I mean, is he really an Afghan or has he been sent from abroad just to put me under pressure? Is he just some guy who's kept his foreign passport safe with the US embassy and so he can do a disappearing act if he doesn't beat me?"

The jibe was intended for Ashraf Ghani, a World Bank economist and one of Karzai's two main rivals. Bearing in mind that Karzai himself for many years boasted of US support as his main asset, the comment was somewhat ironic. Eager to downplay these old associations, Karzai has banned a website for displaying a photograph of him looking dishevelled and surrounded by a group of US special forces.

The photograph was taken in Urozgan during the early days of his career as Afghanistan's US-backed interim president. To be fair to Karzai, he is not the first Afghan leader to land in Afghanistan in a foreign helicopter and surrounded by foreign soldiers. The mujahedin leaders landed at Bagram air base in a Pakistani helicopter in the 1990s and before them, the Soviets flew in their candidate, President Babrak Karmal, in their Sikorsky.

Even if Karzai pulled out at the last minute, what did Afghans make of this first presidential debate which, in the absence of the president himself, was held between the two other candidates, Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah? Ghani stood out for his clear and specific economic policies but his understanding of Afghan politics was generally viewed as unsatisfactory. Abdullah, by contrast, was vague on economic questions but displayed a superior grasp of the working of Afghan politics and society. The candidates were civil to each other and shared a common criticism of Karzai's administration, even though both had a role in shaping it early on. Some Karzai opponents believe that the two rivals should join hands and campaign against Karzai as a team.

Their skills complement each other and their belonging to the two main ethnic groups, Abdullah a Tajik and Ghani a Pashtun, is seen as an added electoral asset. But there's one problem: their egos. Afghan leaders are famous for their reluctance to share power. They would rather preside over a smaller faction than abdicate power for the cause of the greater good and by doing so, become a mere deputy. As the Afghan saying has it, no one wants to be a dime; everyone wants to be a dollar. But Ghani and Abdullah might yet surprise everyone. In any case, Karzai was the clear loser in this first presidential debate. His opponents accused him of cowardice while his supporters wished he had joined in even if only to prove his rivals wrong about this.

Be that as it may and despite the initial enthusiasm, not all Afghans are hopeful about this election. For some critics, the race between Karzai and Ghani is no mark of progress and only a continuation of the old tribal rivalry of Durrani versus Ghilzai Pashtuns for the leadership of Afghanistan. Karzai is a Durrani; Ghani, like Mullah Omar, is a Ghilzai which is why Ghani has reportedly claimed that unlike Karzai, he is capable of persuading the Taliban to negotiate peace. Accusations of ethnic nationalism and discrimination against non-Pashtuns have been levelled against Ghani though his main weakness appears to be his short fuse and his over-reliance on Western support. His choice of an American campaign advisor, James Carville, has not helped his cause.

By contrast to Ghani, Abdullah has been accused of keeping his head down for the sake of political expediency and not speaking up for any clear policy so as to keep his options open. Abdullah's critics claim his term as foreign minister from 2001 to 2006 allowed corruption to thrive, pointing out that his staff turned the Afghan embassy in the crucial neighbouring capital of Tehran into a lucrative business, trading national assets such as precious stones and historical artefacts. A document recently posted on Kabulpress, provides evidence of considerable financial abuse on the part of a senior Afghan diplomat working under Abdullah during his tenure as foreign minister.

But then again, hardly any Afghan politician is free of such accusations, whether of corruption, racism or even espionage. Afghans have no choice but to make do with who is on offer and even those who were unimpressed by the candidates, couldn't help but be impressed by the debate itself. Karzai or no Karzai, with the studio lights, debates and make-up, Afghan politics has come a long way from the Loya Jirga held in a borrowed Bavarian beer tent in 2001.

Rival to Karzai Gains Strength in Afghan Presidential Election
Source: The New York Times By: CARLOTTA GALL  

HERAT, Afghanistan:- When Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the main election challenger to President Hamid Karzai, arrived here to campaign last weekend, thousands of supporters choked the six-mile drive from the airport. Cars were plastered with his posters. Motorbikes flew blue banners. Young men wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his face leapt aboard his car to embrace him to ecstatic cheers.

With only a month to go, Dr. Abdullah has started his campaign late, but in its first two weeks he has canvassed six provinces and drawn growing support and larger crowds than expected. Rapturous welcomes like this one have suddenly elevated him to the status of potential future president.

“I have no doubt that people want change,” Dr. Abdullah said in an interview after a tumultuous day campaigning in Herat, in western Afghanistan, adding that his momentum was just building. “Today they are hopeful that change can come.”

Mr. Karzai is still widely considered the front-runner in the campaign for the Aug. 20 presidential election. But Dr. Abdullah, who has the backing of the largest opposition group, the National Front, is the one candidate among the field of 41 who has a chance of forcing Mr. Karzai into a runoff, a contest between the top two vote-getters if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes in the first balloting.

Already well known among most Afghans, Dr. Abdullah, 48, an ophthalmologist, has a background that includes years of resistance to Soviet and Taliban rule as well as a crucial role in the formation of the new democratic government after the American intervention.

A dapper dresser, wearing traditional Afghan clothes under a variety of Western tailored jackets, he combines solidarity with the former resistance fighters with the moderation of the Afghan intellectual, giving him potentially broad appeal.

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.

To do that, he advocates the devolution of power from the strong presidency built up under Mr. Karzai to a parliamentary system that he says will be more representative. He is also calling for a system of electing officials for Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and nearly 400 districts as a way to build support for the government.

Those provincial governors are now appointed from Kabul, and many have been criticized for cronyism and corruption. Influential Shiite clerics here in Herat, who supported Mr. Karzai in the last election in 2004, are now so fed up with corrupt appointees that they have said they will back Dr. Abdullah this time.

Re-engaging the people is essential to reverse the lawlessness and insecurity that have reached a critical point in much of the country, Dr. Abdullah said. “They have managed to lose the people,” he said of the current government. “In fighting an insurgency, you lose the people and you lose the war.”

Before several thousand people in Herat’s sports stadium, he raised the biggest cheer with his promise to build up Afghan institutions so that foreign troops could go home soon.

He also promised to curb the rampant corruption and review foreign assistance programs to ensure that they focused on grass-roots development and addressed poverty and unemployment. In his public meetings, he emphasized support for the rights of women, the unemployed, the disabled and the victims of war.

He said he would work seriously toward reconciliation with the Taliban, calling the current process a “joke.” Yet in an interview he retained his longtime opposition to the Taliban leadership and said he doubted that the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, was ready to negotiate for peace.

This is only the second national presidential election in Afghanistan’s history, and political analysts warn that it is virtually impossible to predict how the election will go or to read voters’ intentions. Diplomats calculating the numbers of the various factions that have come out in support of Mr. Karzai say that he will just scrape back in, thanks largely to the support from the largest ethnic group, his fellow Pashtuns.

Yet two opinion polls conducted this year suggested that Mr. Karzai had lost considerable support since his 2004 victory with 55 percent of the vote. One of those polls, conducted in May by the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit pro-democracy group, showed that Mr. Karzai’s support was down to 31 percent. While only 7 percent said they would vote for Dr. Abdullah, the poll indicated that the election would have to go to a second round.

People interviewed in Herat also spoke of a shift in the public mood. “Karzai has governed for eight years and all the problems have increased, not decreased,” said Hosseini, 47, a farmer who uses one name and who traveled to the city to hear Dr. Abdullah speak.

Although Dr. Abdullah has significant support in the north and the large population centers, he will have difficulty campaigning in the south, where the insurgency makes movement virtually impossible.

And although he may tap into the desire for change after nearly eight years of Mr. Karzai’s rule, supporters and analysts say Mr. Karzai will still dominate in his Pashtun homeland in Kandahar, in the south.

Dr. Abdullah also claims heritage from Kandahar through his father, Ghulam Muhayuddine Khan, a Pashtun who was a senator in the 1970s. Yet he is far better known for his connection to the northern Panjshir Valley, through his mother and his close relationship with the famous resistance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, who fought both the Russian occupation and the Taliban.

Dr. Abdullah dismissed suggestions that he could not raise support in the Pashtun south and said that support for Mr. Karzai in the area had dropped drastically as security had worsened and more people had joined the insurgency. “Southern Afghanistan has nearly announced jihad against Karzai,” he said.

Afghan presidential candidate withdraws in Karzai's favor
Source: Xinhua By:    

KABUL:- An Afghan presidential candidate Mohammad Sayed Hashimi withdrew in favor of sitting president and contester for second term Hamid Karzai on Friday.

Addressing a public meeting held here, Syed Hashimi described President Karzai as a qualified person for leading Afghanistan and urged people to mandate him for the second term.

Including Karzai, there are 41 presidential hopeful on the race to secure the country's highest executive post and Syed Hashimi is the first candidate withdrew in favor of sitting president Karzai.

A leading Shiite cleric and leader of his own Islamic faction -Islamic Revolution Movement of Afghanistan, Syed Hashimi, in the gathering where Karzai was present, called on his followers to use their franchise on voting day.

As the date for August 20 presidential election is getting closer, making alliance among some candidates is expected. Days ago, another candidate Baryali withdrew in favor of Karzai's challenger Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghanistan's second presidential election in the post-Taliban country is going to be held amid tight security as Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt it.

Afghan election: Can Karzai's rivals close the gap?

Source: The Christian Science Monitor - By: Issam Ahmed
Kabul and Paktika Province, Afghanistan:- Rivals to Afghan President Hamid Karzai are stepping up their campaigns ahead of an Aug. 20 presidential election that is just beginning to look like a real contest.

Although Mr. Karzai leads the field of 41 candidates by 24 percentage points, according to a May poll, serious contenders like former government ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani appear to be gaining popularity and may even force the incumbent into a runoff, say Afghan political analysts.

Meanwhile, both candidates are campaigning in areas – and with ethnic groups – outside their typical bases. They are directing fierce criticism at Karzai, trying to tap into widespread resentment at continuing insecurity and weak and corrupt governance.

In a speech in southeastern Paktika Province over the weekend, Mr. Abdullah struck a defiant tone in front of a crowd of several hundred Pashtun tribesmen – a constituency not traditionally favorable to the former Northern Alliance leader.

"I want Afghanistan to stand on its own feet so that in a few years we won't need foreign troops. The president's bodyguards are all American. He doesn't trust his own people. If you don't have support, why try to stand for election? Afghans deserve better," he declared to a roar of approval.

Mr. Ghani – a former World Bank analyst who was in 2006 tipped for the job of United Nations Secretary General – is traveling north to non-Pashtun regions. (For security reasons his campaign team refuses to divulge his exact location to media until after his visit.)

"The president can hide in the palace, but Dr. Ghani is not afraid of his own people," says one Ghani spokesman.

The warrior
Though the two candidates may sound alike on the campaign trial, their paths to the presidential race cannot have been more different.

Born in Kabul to a Pashtun father from Kandahar and a Tajik mother, Abdullah graduated as a medical doctor from Kabul University in 1983 and worked briefly at an eye clinic in Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He later became a key figure in the anti-Soviet resistance, becoming first the personal physician and then a key adviser to Tajik resistance leader Ahmed Shah Masood – a revered figure in modern Afghanistan to whom Abdullah is widely seen as a successor.

During the Northern Alliance's brief time in power in 1995 he served as a government spokesperson, later becoming the "foreign-minister-in-exile" during the period of Taliban rule. Fluent in French, English, and Arabic on top of native languages Tajik, Dari, and Pashto, he spent much of his time abroad lobbying foreign governments for financial and materiel assistance while in exile.

Following the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, he was confirmed as foreign minister, a post he held until 2006 when he was removed by Karzai as part of a purge of Northern Alliance officials.

According to Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, Abdullah's biography is certain to help him. "His background as a close aide to Masood plays in his favor. Without that background he wouldn't be able to attract the crowds he is attracting right now."

Campaigning in Paktika Province, he drew heavily upon in his personal biography: "As an Afghan and a mujahid [one who participated in jihad against the Soviets], I will bring an end to corruption," he said, adding he would realize the vision of his mentor Masood (a favorite even among Pashtuns). A group of schoolboys had earlier sung a lengthy lament to Masood's death: "Oh Masood, champion of the mountains, we remember you always."

Undoing the president's power
In terms of policy, Masood stands for reforming Afghanistan's political system by adopting a parliamentary as opposed to presidential system. This setup, Abdullah says, will ensure better checks and balances upon the executive. He also wants to devolve power to local government by having elected, rather than appointed, mayors and governors. Karzai has been able to entrench his power, he says, by selecting local officials loyal to him.

Prior to his Paktika trip last week, Abdullah was able to secure the backing of Atta Muhammad Noor, the governor of the northern province of Balkh, and Mohammad Hussain Anwari, head of the influential Islamic Movement and former governor of western Herat Province.

According to Mr. Mir, Abdullah is "the only serious rival" to Karzai, because he can attract those who have been sidelined or sacked from government under Karzai.

The intellectual
Ghani, on the other hand, has a strong background in academia with degrees from the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, and from New York's Columbia University, where he earned a PhD in anthropology.

Ghani worked at the World Bank for 11 years as lead anthropologist, served as special adviser to Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, then the United Nations Secretary General's special envoy to Afghanistan, and was a close adviser to Karzai during the interim government of 2002 to 2004.

It was in his capacity as finance minister of Afghanistan that Ghani won most plaudits. He was credited with implementing extensive reforms and stymieing corruption, which led to his being named the Best Finance Minister of Asia in 2003 by the Emerging Markets newspaper.

His platform for the 2009 elections is based on a detailed economic plan for sustainable growth in Afghanistan's major provinces that he says will have a multiplier effect throughout the rest of the country.

"Ashraf Ghani is an internationally recognized intellectual. He has done more practical work, has over a decade's experience at the World Bank, and is a good planner," says Wadir Safi, a politics professor at Kabul University.

Mir adds: "Dr. Ghani is really the only candidate standing more for ideas than personality."

Looking like 'Washington's official pick'
But his strength as a technocrat may be overshadowed by his weakness when it comes to winning popular support, Mir continues. After Ghani completed his ambitious "Ten-Year Framework for Afghanistan," he headed to Washington, where he spent two weeks explaining his plans to US lawmakers. It was later translated into Dari and Pashto for the benefit of the Afghan people "which is the opposite of how it should have been. He should have explained his plan to the Afghan people first," Mir says.

Ghani's recent recruitment of James Carville, a campaign strategist to former US President Bill Clinton, may also backfire. According to independent parliamentarian and women's rights activist Shakooria Barekzai, "It makes him look like Washington's official pick. Even if that's not the case, it could hurt his chances."

Still, Ghani's campaign team is hopeful of selling its ideas to the public. "Our campaign strategy is to focus on making it a referendum of the last five years ... This election will not be about cheap deals. Our strategic partnerships will be with the people," says Ajmal Abidy, a spokesman.

Likelihood of runoff grows
According to a May poll conducted by the International Republican Institute, Karzai leads with 31 percent of the vote, with Abdullah at 7 percent and Ghani at 2 percent.

But some observers say the gap is narrowing. Karzai's rivals are increasingly likely to prevent him from winning more than 50 percent, which is necessary to avoid a runoff, say Mir and Professor Safi.

Gauging just how much the numbers are changing is an arduous task in Afghanistan, given the insurgency in the country's south, and a shortage of fixed phone lines and the absence in some places of area codes.

Other indicators that can be used to measure a campaign's momentum are number of posters, number of visits by tribal leaders to campaign headquarters, and the number of paid advertisements on television, according to Mir. Based on these metrics, it appears that the field may be closing, he says.

Karzai still holds election aces
Despite his rivals' recent gains, Karzai still holds many aces for the Aug. 20 presidential election.

"He's still a very skillful player. The manner in which he's been able to neutralize and co-opt his political opponents shows that," says Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, referring to the support that Mr. Karzai secured from Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Hazara leader Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq, and the influential governor of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzai. Critics claim these opponents have been "bought" with dozens of promised ministries and governorships.

Karzai also successfully fended off legal challenges registered against his two vice-presidential running mates, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili, for their alleged links to war crimes. Late last month the independent Afghanistan Rights Monitor called on the United States and United Nations to intervene, in a report entitled "The Winning Warlords."

Karzai's control of the machinery of the state may also prove useful, says Wadir Safi, a politics professor at Kabul University.

Many residents in Kabul, like Muhammad Yousaf, a farmer, say they will vote for Karzai. "He has built many roads including one from Turkham to Jalalabad. It was a very long trip, but now it's easy."

Some of Kabul's educated youth appear inclined to support the challengers. On a surprise visit to Kabul University Monday morning, Abdullah attracted an audience of more than 800 students eager to catch a glimpse of the war hero. "Long live the resistance, long live Abdullah," they chanted.

Later, after the rally dispersed, first-year medical student Ali Abdullah complained that "Karzai has shown no progress, he hasn't done anything for the people." He says he will vote for "either [Abdullah] Abdullah or [Ashraf] Ghani," Karzai's main election rivals.

Hameeda Jan, a science lecturer, said she will vote for Mr. Ghani "because he is an educated man and qualified to run things."

Karzai opponents hope to beat him in second round

Source: McClatchy Newspapers - By NANCY A. YOUSSEF
KABUL, Afghanistan -- In an effort to offset Afghan President Hamid Kazai's deals with various tribal factions, his rival presidential candidates are hoping to deny him a majority in the Aug. 20 election, then coalesce around one leading opposition candidate in a runoff.
By announcing their strategy, Karzai's rivals hope to counteract the widespread belief here that the vote inevitably will be rigged in his favor - despite the colorful campaign posters that plaster blast walls, doorways and car windows with pithy slogans.
Whether the runoff plan will work is anything but clear. There are 41 presidential candidates, including two women, a former Taliban commander, several former Karzai Cabinet ministers and an Afghan-American who volunteered for President Barack Obama's election campaign. Political parties here are weak, and the candidates' agendas show little agreement.
Indeed, some candidates already are hinting that they won't throw their support to a rival unconditionally. The coalition "can only happen if they agree with my agenda for change," said Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's former foreign minister and a leading presidential candidate.
The strategy makes the election a referendum on Karzai's tenure, one that even American officials, who once were among his strongest backers, characterize as ineffective and corrupt.
"We have one competitor, and we are focused on the one competitor," said another leading presidential candidate and potential Karzai rival in a runoff, Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister.
In the past three months, Karzai has reached deals around the country with a bevy of influential tribal leaders and elders, making various promises in exchange for them pushing for their followers to vote for him. Some think he's also made deals with Taliban leaders.
"Karzai is trying to win in the first round because he knows the risk that comes with the second round," said Wahed Mughzada, a political analyst. "He has a lot of tricks, and he is using them now."
Karzai won election in 2004 in the first round with 56 percent of the vote. One of the few national polls held here, conducted in early May by the German-funded National Centre for Policy Research at Kabul University, found that Karzai has 23 percent support; then Karzai's former Minister of Planning Ramzan Bashardost, with 12 percent; and Abdullah next, with 10 percent. Ghani has the backing of 4 percent.
"The reasons people give for supporting Karzai is that while there are difficulties in Afghanistan there is not a better alternative," said Hamidullah Noor Ehad the center's director.
American officials, tired of what they think is Karzai's unwillingness to crack down on corruption and his criticism of U.S. military actions, feel much the same way.
Candidates are either too close to Iran or Pakistan, too affiliated with Karzai's government, show no promise of ending corruption or don't enjoy enough tribal support. Publicly, American officials stress the U.S. isn't backing any candidate; privately they're resigned to a Karzai victory.
Despite the vast number of candidates, some here think there won't even be a runoff. As Aug. 20 nears, they expect candidates to drop out, leaving the ballot with something like 10 candidates, not 41.
If that happens, voters are likely to vote for Karzai. Even in a runoff, Karzai benefits from a sense of inevitability.
"Everyone will run to who they think will win," said Abdul Hamid Mobarez, a political analyst and president of the Afghanistan National Journalists Union. "Even in the second round."
Most of the candidates are "really only running to make deals" for themselves and their interest groups, said Nasrallah Starikzay, a political science professor at Kabul University. "Only the serious ones will have enough election money to stay until the end. ... And if that happens, Karzai will likely win."
Ironically, a Karzai victory in the first round could create problems, some analysts said. Few people here believe Karzai enjoys enough support to win in the first round. If he does, many will cry fraud.
"If there is no runoff, it could create a crisis, and if there is a runoff, there could be crisis as the Taliban and other people try to influence the election," said Mughzada, the political analyst.
The Independent Electoral Commission has set aside $223 million for next month's election, allotting some of that money for a runoff. They concede, however, that holding the first round alone will be challenging. Some areas are too dangerous for voters and observers to go. Also, there are allegations of voter fraud and strong-arming. So far, voters and politicians alike already are charging that the process isn't legitimate.
"We are limited in what we can do. We will try to do our best to have the best election," said IEC President Azizulah Lodin. "In the end, one person will be happy and 40 will make allegations" of fraud.

Afghan presidential contest tightens

Source: UPI
KABUL, Afghanistan:- The main opposition candidates to Afghan President Hamid Karzai are gaining ground with early forecasts predicting a runoff for the August vote.
Karzai squares off against more than 40 other candidates in the Aug. 20 contest. He leads the pack in the latest polling, but his two main rivals are gaining ground, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
His former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and his former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani are canvassing areas outside their normal spheres of influence in Afghanistan in an effort to unseat Karzai.
Abdullah has waged a legacy campaign, drawing on his ties to the infamous Ahmad Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of Panjshir who was assassinated two days before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I want Afghanistan to stand on its own feet so that in a few years we won't need foreign troops," said Abdullah.
Meanwhile, Ghani hopes to draw on his experience as an analyst for the World Bank and his role in the early development of the current Afghan government. His ties to Washington, however, may undermine his chances at rivaling his two counterparts in the polls.
The Monitor cites May polling results from the International Republican Institute that show Karzai with 31 percent of the vote, Abdullah with 7 percent and Ghani with 2 percent.
Political analysts in Afghanistan say that as the campaign season evolves, support for Karzai's rivals may push the election into a runoff.

Danger Room in Afghanistan: Protecting Hamid Karzai

Source: Hod Wired News - By: Nathan
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN:- After my KamAir flight arrived yesterday at Kabul International Airport – surprisingly, right on time – the bus ferrying us to the main terminal abruptly halted on the tarmac, and the driver cut the motor. Some very serious and squared-away looking men, wearing crisp new camouflage uniforms and sporting nicely accessorized M4s, had set up a large perimeter around the terminal. We wouldn’t be going anywhere.

I assumed it was some or another senior official: a cabinet minister, perhaps, rushing to catch a plane? After a long wait, a long motorcade escorted by humvees rolled up to a waiting aircraft. This was no mere official: It was President Hamid Karzai, setting off for Kandahar.

The Afghan president embarked yesterday on a campaign swing through southern Afghanistan, where he has promised to bring the “lower case t” Taliban back into the political process. Whether he will succeed is open to question, but his trip down south highlights some of the risks of presidential campaigning in this country.

Karzai has survived several attempts on his life. Back in September 2004, during the last presidential election, Karzai escaped an assassination bid when a rocket was fired at his helicopter as it prepared to land near Gardez. And last year, Taliban insurgents staged a brazen attack during a military parade.

The United States, not surprisingly, has made a serious investment in protecting the Afghan president. Karzai was initially protected by a Special Forces detachment; U.S. security firm DynCorp later won a contract to provide protective details for Karzai and train bodyguards for the Afghan president. And as Danger Room first reported, U.S. taxpayers have also funded the acquisition of VIP helicopters for Karzai.

Of course, heavy security can also mean some inconvenience. Traffic came to a standstill in downtown Kabul while the president was on the move, and news reports from Kandahar describe Karzai being whisked away under tight security after his arrival in the city.

Campaign offices of Karzai, Abdullah closed in Samangan

Source: Pajhwok - By: Muhammad Barat
AIBAK - Two regional campaign offices of presidential candidates Hamid Karzai and Dr. Abdullah have been closed down by the people of northern Samangan province, fearing attacks in the area from militants.

The closure of the two offices on Friday came in Aibak city, provincial capital of the province, days after an attack on the police of the first district by unknown assailants, killing a police officer, a constable and wounding two others.

Maulavi Bashir Ahmad, the Imam of a mosque in Aibak said the people closed the offices fearing more attacks on the police in the area.

Alia Qul, a resident of Aibak, said that if police can guarantee the security of the visiting people, they would allow reopening of the offices.

"When there were no campaign offices, everything was safe and secure and it is believed that the offices caused the security problems in which police were killed," he said.
However, Muhammad Asif Azimi, head of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's campaign office in Samangan province said that the office was reopened in coordination and consultation with local people.

Azimi said campaigning was the right of every candidate and people did not have any right to close the campaign offices.

Haji Sarajuddin, an official of Hamid Karzai campaign office in the province said that their office members were in negotiation with police and local elders to reopen the office.

Muhammad Karim, head of Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Samangan province said the closure of the campaign offices was not a job of the commission as it belonged to the candidates, people and police.

Brig. General Habib Rahman Sahar, police chief of Baghlan said that the first district was under full control and the situation is calm there.

He said that a delegation had been sent to secure reopening of the campaign offices.

He added 17 people have been arrested on the suspicion of murdering the police men. Eight of them were released when found innocent while nine others are under arrest for possessing rocket launchers, machine guns and Kalashnikovs.

Taliban have claimed responsibility for killing the police and said that four police were killed and a ranger vehicle was torched in their attack.

Afghanistan's TV 'Election': Better Than the Real Thing

By Aryn Baker

It is Mujiburahman Poya's youth that makes his face jump out from among the posters of the 41 candidates for Afghanistan's presidential election next month. Surrounded by images of the grizzled faces of older men sporting traditional hats or business suits, 18-year-old Poya's poster declares him "The Real Afghanistan" and promises that if elected, he will enrich the country rather than himself. No matter how appealing voters find that message in a country plagued by corruption, though, it will be at least another 22 years before they can tick Poya's name at the polling booths. (Afghanistan's constitution sets the minimum age for a President at 40.) Poya isn't actually running for election; he is a contestant on The Candidate, a reality-TV show that follows six Afghans ages 22 or younger as they compete to develop the policies, campaign and support necessary to win a poll of viewers voting by SMS text messages on their mobile phones.

And in a lackluster presidential race (the outcome — the re-election of President Hamid Karzai — is all but certain), The Candidate may be the only thing getting Afghans to think about the policies they would like to see a President adopt. (Watch a video on the challenges for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.)

There had been some hope for a genuinely competitive election last spring, when several popular politicians announced plans to run for President, but Karzai responded by winning endorsements from key power brokers and making shrewd political alliances with former rivals, giving himself a commanding lead. A recent opinion poll found Karzai enjoying only a 33% approval rate, but that was still miles ahead of all his competitors. That prompted a Western diplomat to lament that Karzai was both "unpopular and unbeatable."

Despite high voter-registration figures, a combination of security fears, the potential for vote-rigging and indifference toward the candidates has many analysts fearing a dangerously low turnout that could undermine the legitimacy of the winning candidate and hand the Taliban a powerful propaganda tool. "I don't see much enthusiasm for the elections," says Haroun Mir, head of the Afghan Center for Research and Policy Studies, a Kabul-based think tank. "There is a feeling that nothing will change, the old power brokers will still be in charge, so why bother?"

Producers of The Candidate, which airs on the privately owned Tolo TV network, are hoping to help by focusing Afghans on what they want from their political leaders. And Tolo has a successful model for its idea of tele-democracy: its wildly popular show Afghan Star, which mimicks American Idol and allows millions of viewers to vote via text message each week for their favorite singer. "One of the key successes of Afghan Star was that it demonstrated the concept of voting. So we started to think, How do we do the same thing in terms of elections?" says Tolo chief Jahid Mohseni. "One of the critical problems we have in Afghanistan is that we have a personality approach to politics — it's all about who the person is, his family or his ethnicity. It's never about policy and it is never about the outcome you want. So we thought a program based on a competition about policies could change that."

Each week, the show's contestants debate a policy topic such as security, education, health care and the economy. Although a rotating panel of judges rate the candidates based on presentation, strategy and persuasiveness, viewers get the final say, voting one candidate off the show each week, starting with the fourth episode and culminating a week before the real election. The show's debates have become part of the country's everyday political discussions, blurring the line between reality TV and political reality. "These six candidates are better than the real candidates because they talk about platforms and have a vision for what needs to be done," says presenter Jawed Jurat. Already, he says, some of the real candidates are copying the platforms of their youthful television counterparts.

The show's contestants are given $1,300 a month to spend on real-world campaigning — posters, rallies and travel to other provinces. For Ahmed Farid Danish, a 20-year-old from Kabul who dresses for TV in a crystal-studded tuxedo jacket and iridescent lavender tie, going out on the campaign trail was the hardest part. The son of a prominent politician, he had always thought about running for higher office. "Now that I am having to meet all these people and talk about the issues in public, I think maybe I don't want to run for President," he confided the week before he was voted off the program. Not so for Ajuba Dadqiq, 19, the only female candidate. Vivacious and stunning, the schoolteacher covers her head in a handmade silk scarf with the bold black, red and green stripes of the Afghan flag. She says she has always wanted to be President. Being on The Candidate, she says, is the first step in a long political career. "By the time I reach the legal age to be President, I hope the people of Afghanistan are ready to accept a female President. If they are not, I will work hard to make the people ready."

Two weeks ago, 18-year-old Poya became the first candidate voted off the show. But instead of making a graceful concession speech, he refused the sixth-place plaque and stormed offstage. Outside the studio, he spluttered his anger and vitriol, hinting darkly that the vote was rigged and elections were useless. "After this, it is clear that I must move ahead by force, not by talent," he shouted. "Afghanistan is not ready for democracy. If people want it, there is hope, but now no one is thinking about their future. They are not thinking about who they choose, so that is why they suffer." The moment was captured by behind-the-scenes cameras, offering a reality-TV moment uncomfortably close to Afghanistan's reality

For Karzai, Stumbles On Road To Election - Campaign Chaos, Rivals' Gains Cited

Source: Washington - By: Pamela Constable
KABUL:- His portrait adorns giant billboards in every corner of the capital: hugging a child, making a speech and smiling serenely atop comforting platitudes about progress and peace.

But the real Hamid Karzai, president of the Islamic republic of Afghanistan and candidate for reelection Aug. 20, is nowhere to be seen.

Since the official campaign began last month, his aides said, more than 50 rallies have been organized by supporters across the country, but he has not yet attended one. Television stations have proposed debates among Karzai and his major rivals, but he has demurred, saying certain conditions need to be established first.

"The president is not afraid to debate anyone, but we have concerns that the other candidates do not know the principles of conversation. A debate should not be a battlefield," Ahmad Omar, a spokesman for Karzai's campaign, said at a news conference last week. Omar also said Karzai would appear at some campaign rallies soon.

Thus far, however, the president has been relying on his relationships with tribal elders, business leaders and an array of former militia commanders to secure victory. Meanwhile, U.N. officials and human rights groups have charged that government officials across the country are improperly using their offices and influence to bolster his campaign.

Until very recently, the conventional wisdom among pollsters, pundits and the public was that Karzai would easily garner the 50.01 percent of votes he needs to win in the first round of polling, despite his declining popularity at home and increasingly testy relations with allies abroad. But in the past several weeks, that presumption has begun to change.

Although none of Karzai's major challengers is expected to defeat him outright Aug. 20, several election observers said they may do well enough as a group to force a second round of polling, partly because of recent blunders by Karzai and partly because many Afghans are looking for alternative leadership at a time of sustained insurgent violence, economic stagnation and political drift.

"If Karzai loses the first round, his spell will be broken," said one businessman who follows the political winds closely. "Even his own advisers are worried that the campaign is not going well and that his top opponents are gaining momentum." Karzai's chief rivals are two ex-aides, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

According to private accounts of a recent meeting among Karzai's senior aides and backers, many expressed concern over the slow and disorganized campaign, the recent defection of a crucial governor to Abdullah's camp, and a series of high-profile meetings between the U.S. ambassador and several opposition candidates, which Karzai denounced in public .

To a large extent, the president has been relying on the weaknesses and divisions within the opposition, which proved unable to field a strong consensus candidate. Now 40 people are vying to oust Karzai, who has been in power for more than seven years, but none is especially charismatic. Ghani, the only candidate who has articulated a detailed vision for the country, is a technocrat with little patience for politicking.

The president, a charming schmoozer and master political juggler, has also cemented his ties with a variety of powerful Afghans, reportedly promising cabinet posts, governorships and even newly created provinces in exchange for their support. Local business leaders said Karzai's administration has "facilitated" their success by keeping taxes low and offering other incentives.

"All the people you see here have a lot of money they didn't have seven or eight years ago," said construction magnate Shuja Dawalah while attending a recent campaign reception organized by the Afghan Chamber of Commerce. He said Karzai had done much to develop the economy and possessed "more qualifications" than others to lead the country.

But lately, Karzai has been shooting himself in the foot. His repeated anti-American outbursts have raised eyebrows, as did his pardon of several convicted drug traffickers from an influential tribe, based on what his spokesman said was "respect for their families." His electoral alliances with militia leaders from the past have disappointed a fast-growing younger generation of educated voters hoping for change.

There have also been complaints of local government officials using their resources to assist Karzai's campaign and their muscle to intimidate opponents, despite a presidential decree prohibiting such behavior. In a joint report last week, the U.N. advisory mission and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said they had received numerous reports of state interference in the election process.

"The president may not be directly aware of these incidents, but many local authorities are eager to win his favor," said Ahmad Nader Nadery, an official with the commission. He cited a case last week in which district officials in Baghlan province complained of being instructed by the governor, a Karzai appointee, to bring 100 people each to a rally for the president -- and to tell each of those 100 to bring 15 others.

At the same time, Karzai appears to have alienated a key governor. Mohammed Atta, a former militia leader who has done much to modernize northern Balkh province in the past several years, recently announced that he was switching his support to Abdullah, dealing a blow to Karzai's campaign in a crucial region.

Meanwhile, much of the south, Karzai's home base and the core of his Pashtun ethnic constituency, is in the grip of Taliban terror. Many candidates for regional office have been threatened, and despite plans to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers and police to provide election-day security, there are predictions that voters in southern population centers such as Kandahar will stay home for fear of attacks.

The president still enjoys pockets of genuine support across the country, especially in rural areas that have felt the benefits of foreign aid and improved governance on his watch. Moreover, several of his powerful allies are expected to deliver hundreds of thousands of votes each, especially among minorities such as ethnic Hazaras and Uzbeks.

But with more and more Afghans tuned into independent TV and radio, going to school and learning what it means to have individual rights, the benefits of incumbency, patronage, name recognition and powerful friends may no longer be enough to guarantee Karzai the easy victory he once seemed assured of.

"I voted for Mr. Karzai last time, but I haven't made up my mind yet this time," said Ghulam Fareed, 30, a security guard who rides his bicycle to work each morning past the gleaming mansions of Kabul's nouveau riche. "The people are suffering, and we are still looking for someone who will speak for us."

Karzai’s Campaign Office Bombed in Panjshir

Source:Quqnoo - by: Anisa Shahid
A bomb blast near incumbent Karzai’s campaign office in Panjshir province damaged the building, an official said. A spokesman for Hamid Karzai’s campaign centre, Wahid Omar said, the blast occurred Saturday midnight in Rukha district of the most secure Afghan province of Panjshir, 80km north of Kabul.

“No casualties caused by the bomb that went off overnight,” provincial police chief, Gen Abdul Saboor told Quqnoos.

The spokesman for President Karzai who is seeking a second term in office, dismissed any militants involvements in the incident, highlighting political means behind the bombing.

It was a sudden blast caused by an explosive device near the campaign building for President Karzai, Panjshir Police Chief further said, denying the involvements of anyone behind its detonation.

This is the first campaign offices for an Afghan elections hopeful that is damaged in an explosion so far.

Afghan presidential and provincial council elections are slated for August 20 this autumn, where 41 hopefuls, including President Karzai, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai are running for a victory.

Carville to Advise Karzai Challenger in Afghan Election Contest

Source: Bloomberg - By: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
Democratic strategist James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton’s presidential bid in 1992, is helping another challenger: a U.S.-educated rival of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Carville, who has close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said his advisory role to former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani shouldn’t be interpreted as tacit backing by the U.S. for a change of leadership in Afghanistan.

In an interview before leaving for Kabul, Carville said he hadn’t discussed his trip with Clinton, and was going for an exploratory visit as a private consultant.

“I don’t think anybody would veto me doing this,” said Carville, 64, who said he has worked on campaigns in 18 countries. “I’ve worked in Israel when Bill Clinton was president. It’s what I do.”

Ghani, 60, who has a Ph.D in anthropology from Columbia University in New York and worked at the Washington-based World Bank, is one of 41 Karzai opponents competing in the Aug. 20 elections. Ghani, who became finance minister in 2002, said in an interview with the New York Times in January that he stepped down from that post in 2004 because Afghanistan had been taken over by drug traffickers.

Karzai, 51, came to power with U.S. backing following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 and has amassed a power base largely through patronage. His government is under increasing criticism at home and abroad for inefficiency and corruption.

Karzai Support

In a poll released last month by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, 31 percent of Afghans said they plan to vote for Karzai, who won with 54 percent in the 2004 election. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah was in second place with 7 percent; Ghani came in third with 2 percent in the May 3-16 poll of 3,200 Afghans.

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held in the fall. The Obama administration has called for free and competitive elections, and hasn’t officially backed any candidate. The administration has said the elections need to be seen as fair by the Afghan people, regardless of the outcome.

Still, many Afghans would interpret the involvement of an American political strategist with close ties to the Democratic establishment “as a deliberate decision by the Obama administration to assist Ghani,” said Kenneth Katzman, an Afghanistan specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington.

‘Private Citizen’

Asked if Carville had discussed his work for Ghani with U.S. officials, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “Mr. Carville is a private citizen and does not have to vet his travel with the State Department.”

Over the years, Carville has helped numerous foreign candidates, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and former Brazilian President Fernando Enrique Cardoso.

Karzai’s image has suffered in recent years in Washington, where members of Congress and administration officials have questioned his management skills, his dealings with warlords, and alleged criminal links and graft among members of his family. In his first prime-time news conference, on Feb. 9, President Barack Obama said the Karzai government “seems very detached from what’s going on.”

Washington Summit

The Obama administration hosted Karzai in May for a summit that brought together officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. The visit was billed as an opportunity to build trust among the three countries, aimed at coordinating the fight against the Taliban.

Karzai came under fire from senators who said he had failed to address their concerns about corruption and poor governance. Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said Karzai’s presentation to senators was “harmful.”

Obama has promised an additional 21,000 troops for Afghanistan this year to ramp up the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The U.S. plans to have at least 60,000 troops on the ground by Election Day, in addition to about 37,000 NATO- led troops.

On a recent trip to Kabul, National Security Adviser James Jones met Karzai and three rivals, including Ghani, saying the U.S. “neither supports nor opposes any legitimate candidate.” U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has also met several candidates. The gesture has been interpreted as evidence the U.S. isn’t backing a particular hopeful, said Lisa Curtis, a South Asia specialist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

‘Government Machinery’

“The U.S. wants to demonstrate that the elections should be competitive,” Curtis said. “There are allegations that the Karzai administration is using the tools of government machinery to impact the elections.”

If Afghans believe the election isn’t fair, anti-U.S. militias will have an opening for recruitment, Curtis said.

Ghani, who returned from two decades in the U.S. after the fall of the Taliban, initially worked pro bono as an adviser to Karzai. As finance minister, he won praise for establishing a new currency, overhauling budgeting and customs, and promoting rural development through World Bank grants.

He later became a Karzai critic, returning to Washington to establish the Institute of State Effectiveness, a policy institute.

Ghani has praised Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan. He advocates persuading low-level Taliban fighters to give up their arms -- a position shared by the Obama administration.

“My prime objective is to oust this corrupt administration through voting and provide shelter and job opportunities for 1 million people,” Ghani told supporters in Kabul last month.

The Taliban have called for an election boycott and have attacked some voter registration centers.

Karzai Could Still Hire Begala, for Whatever That's Worth

Source: National Review
It doesn't really matter if James Carville didn't check with Hillary Clinton before signing on as a campaign consultant to Afghan presidential challenger Ashraf Ghani, who is running against incumbent president Hamid Karzai. Carville's longtime ties to Clinton, and Clinton's role as secretary of state, will create the widespread impression that Ghani has the implicit backing of the United States government.

There have been persistent reports of growing U.S. irritation with Karzai; Carville's work to elect a rival will only add credibility to those reports. This isn't the first time that Carville has gotten involved in foreign elections, and he is seen as a de facto endorsement; his work for Israeli Labor party leader Ehud Barak a decade ago was seen as a not-so-subtle White House rebuke of Benjamin Netanyahu.

It's a free country, and political consultants can work for the clients they choose. But when longtime, trusted advisers take sides in other countries' elections, it's not unfair for those countries to interpret that work as an implicit endorsement.

Karzai's Challengers Face Daunting Odds - Hopefuls Largely Ignore Insurgency

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 6, 2009

JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- As U.S. Marines launched a major offensive against Taliban insurgents in southern Helmand province, the presidential campaign unfolding in more peaceful parts of northern and eastern Afghanistan last week seemed to be taking place on another planet.

Whether addressing rallies, chatting with voters in the streets or receiving delegations of tribal leaders, candidates barely mentioned the violent insurgency that international experts fear could sabotage the Aug. 20 polling.

Instead, the presidential hopefuls stuck to themes they knew would resonate with Afghan audiences. They denounced civilian casualties by foreign forces and called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. They railed against corruption in government, evoked past military triumphs and hyped their personal ties to late national leaders.

"I decided to launch my campaign here because this is where the holy war began," said Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, addressing a large outdoor rally Wednesday in this muggy eastern city. "I want to stand and struggle for the honor and dignity of the holy warriors. I want to build an Afghanistan that can defend itself without foreign troops."

Dressing for the occasion, the dapper professional wore a traditional Afghan tunic and baggy trousers. He also strove for ethnic balance by donning a rolled wool cap worn by Afghan Tajiks, then exchanging it for a striped turban favored by Pashtuns.

His audience, mostly men rounded up by a local legislator and former anti-Soviet militia leader, listened politely in the steamy tent. Later, after Abdullah had departed in a government helicopter for Kabul, the capital, some said they had not decided whom to support for president, but many said they were fed up with the incumbent, Hamid Karzai.

"We gave Karzai a chance, but he did not serve the people. He is weak, and his administration is corrupt," said Ghulam Sahi, 48, a tribal elder. A man named Zaman ul-Haq complained that Karzai's government had "taken away our weapons but not given us jobs. Today only the mafia people get jobs. After three decades of war, we need a strong and honest leader."

Public opinion surveys show that Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since soon after the overthrow of Islamist Taliban rule in late 2001, is still likely to emerge the winner. To shore up his flagging popularity, he has made preelection deals with powerful tribal, business and militia figures -- including some with unsavory reputations -- who command large numbers of votes.

Within the field of 41 candidates, only Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani are considered remotely in the running; most others are expected to pull out or support one of the big three. Karzai can hold endless televised news conferences in his secure palace, while the threat of insurgent attacks makes it dangerous for other candidates to venture into the countryside to enhance their name recognition.

As a result, with just over six weeks until the election, only a handful of the country's 10 million to 12 million voters have met any of the candidates in person. Most campaign events have been highly guarded and orchestrated, such as Abdullah's visit here, which included closed-door meetings with local officials but not a single handshake with audience members.

"There is very little public enthusiasm for this election," said Haroun Mir, director of the Afghan Center for Research and Policy Studies. "The old political actors are still running things, and the attempt to form an opposition coalition failed. No matter who wins the presidency, the government will be dysfunctional -- with little hope of reform."

International concern has focused on whether the Taliban will follow through on threats to attack the polling places, especially in the south, where low turnout could raise the prospect of ethnic imbalance in the national count. The United States and NATO are sending extra troops to protect the vote, but officials said it would be impossible to guarantee the safety of all 28,000 polling stations.

Election advisers and opposition candidates said they are also worried about pro-government rigging on election day. They warned that this could trigger a violent confrontation similar to what has recently occurred in Iran -- only worse because Afghanistan is awash with weapons.

"The stakes are very high, so if the race gets tight, all the stops may be pulled out to deliver the vote," said one international election observer in Kabul. An election complaint office has been established, but its cumbersome procedures might be unable to forestall a wave of public anger.

Karzai has pledged not to use his government status and powers to influence the election. He has also complained that U.S. officials, while maintaining a formally neutral position, recently held high-profile meetings with several key opponents. Relations between the Afghan president and Washington have gone steadily downhill in the past year.

Yet only a few of Karzai's challengers have journeyed into the provinces on their own or mingled with crowds in Kabul. One is Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and eccentric crusader whose office consists of a tent pitched outside the parliament. Another is Shala Attah, a psychologist and legislator who spent 20 years as a war exile in Alexandria, Va., and returned home in 2007.

"I'm not afraid of people, and I'm not afraid to speak the truth," said Attah, 41, who left her husband and five children behind in Virginia and said she misses them terribly. "There is too much corruption in this country. There are women in villages living in caves. There are boys killing for the Taliban. Someone has to talk about the real problems."

One evening last week, Attah drove through the capital and stopped in a busy market, draped in an elegant black cloak, to greet astonished shoppers. Because she has near-zero name recognition, her campaign posters feature images of the late Mohammed Daud Khan, a former president.

"Daud Khan was a good man, and this lady says she will follow in his footsteps," said Ghulam Haider, 51, a cook who was bicycling home and stopped to take one of Attah's fliers. "What we really need from our next leader is to negotiate with the Taliban. They are our brothers, and the foreigners have destroyed our country. We have to end this war."

Several other candidates, including Ghani and former anti-drug official Mirwais Yasini, have developed substantive policy platforms but tend to campaign in the traditional Afghan way, through private meetings and elaborate receptions for visiting provincial elders.

Like Abdullah, both men are former senior aides to Karzai who broke with him and are now highly critical of his performance. Ghani has accused Karzai of wasting billions in foreign aid and allowing corruption to poison the state.

Yasini tends to sound the same alarm, saying Karzai is running the government like a crony enterprise and cozying up to ethnic strongmen. Yasini is the only candidate who has dared to speak strongly in favor of keeping Western troops in the country, but he scoffs at opinion polls predicting that he and other challengers have little chance.

"Unless the election is rigged, Karzai is not unbeatable," Yasini said in an interview. "He thought he could use the warlords, but they won't help him because the people are fed up with these dragons. This boat is sinking, and if Karzai stays or the wrong man takes his place, the country will drown."

Stakes High in Afghanistan Ahead of August Elections
Candidates Campaign as U.S. Battles Insurgents in Helmand Province

Source: Washington Post - By: Pamela Constable
JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- As U.S. Marines launched a major offensive against Taliban insurgents in southern Helmand Province, the presidential campaign unfolding in more peaceful parts of northern and eastern Afghanistan last week seemed to be taking place on another planet.

Whether addressing rallies, chatting with voters in the street or receiving delegations of tribal leaders, candidates barely mentioned the violent insurgency that international experts fear could sabotage the Aug. 20 polling.

Instead, the presidential hopefuls stuck to themes they knew would resonate with Afghan audiences. They denounced civilian casualties by foreign forces and called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. They railed against corruption in government, evoked past military triumphs and hyped their personal ties to late national leaders.

"I decided to launch my campaign here because this is where the holy war began," said Abdullah Abdullah, 55, a former foreign minister, addressing a large outdoor rally Wednesday in this muggy eastern city. "I want to stand and struggle for the honor and dignity of the holy warriors. I want to build an Afghanistan that can defend itself without foreign troops."

Dressing for the occasion, the dapper professional wore a traditional Afghan tunic and baggy trousers. He also strove for ethnic balance by donning a rolled wool cap worn by Afghan Tajiks, then exchanging it for a striped turban favored by Pashtuns.

His audience, mostly men rounded up by a local legislator and former anti-Soviet militia leader, listened politely in the steamy tent. Later, after Abdullah had departed in a government helicopter for Kabul, some said they had not decided whom to support for president, but many said they were fed up with the incumbent, Hamid Karzai.

"We gave Karzai a chance, but he did not serve the people. He is weak and his administration is corrupt," said Ghulam Sahi, 48, a tribal elder. Another man named Zaman ul Haq complained that Karzai's government had "taken away our weapons but not given us jobs. Today only the mafia people get jobs. After three decades of war, we need a strong and honest leader."

Public opinion surveys show that Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since soon after the overthrow of Islamist Taliban rule in late 2001, is still likely to defeat all challengers. To shore up his flagging popularity, he has made pre-election deals with powerful tribal, business and militia figures -- including some with unsavory or bloody reputations -- who command large numbers of votes.

Within the field of 41 candidates, only Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani are considered remotely in the running; most others are expected to pull out or support one of the big three. Karzai can hold endless televised news conferences in his secure palace, while the threat of insurgent attacks makes it dangerous for other candidates to venture into the countryside to become better known.

As a result, with just over six weeks until the election, only a handful of the country's 10 to 12 million voters have met any of the candidates in person. Most campaign events have been highly guarded and orchestrated, like Abdullah's visit here, which included closed-door meetings with local officials but not a single handshake with the tent crowd.

"There is very little public enthusiasm for this election," said Haroun Mir, director of the Afghan Center for Research and Policy Studies. "The old political actors are still running things, and the attempt to form an opposition coalition failed. No matter who wins the presidency the government will be dysfunctional with little hope of reform."

Until now, international concern has focused on whether the Taliban will follow through on threats to attack the polls, especially in the south where low turnout could raise the prospect of ethnic imbalance in the national count. Both the U.S. and NATO are sending extra troops to protect the vote, but officials said it would be impossible to guarantee the safety of all 28,000 polling stations.

Election advisers and opposition candidates said they are also worried about pro-government rigging on election day. They warned that this could trigger a violent confrontation similar to what has recently occurred in Iran -- only worse because Afghanistan is awash with weapons.

"The stakes are very high, so if the race gets tight, all the stops may be pulled out to deliver the vote," said one international election observer in Kabul. An election complaint office has been established, but its cumbersome procedures might be unable to forestall a wave of public anger.

Karzai has pledged not to use his government status and powers to influence the election. He has also complained that U.S. officials, while maintaining a formally neutral position, recently held high-profile meetings with several key opponents. Relations between the Afghan president and Washington have gone steadily downhill in the past year.

Yet only a few of Karzai's challengers have journeyed into the provinces on their own or mingled with crowds in Kabul. One is Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and eccentric crusader whose office consists of a tent pitched outside the national parliament. Another is Shala Attah, a psychologist and legislator who spent 20 years as a war exile in Alexandria, Va., and returned home in 2007.

"I'm not afraid of people, and I'm not afraid to speak the truth," said Attah, 41, who left her husband and five children behind in Virginia and said she misses them terribly. "There is too much corruption in this country. There are woman in villages living in caves. There are boys killing for the Taliban. Someone has to talk about the real problems."

One evening last week, Attah drove through the capital and hopped out in a busy market, draped in an elegant black cloak, to greet astonished shoppers. Because she has near-zero name recognition, her campaign posters feature a large portrait of the late Mohammed Daud Khan, a former Afghan president.

"Daud Khan was a good man, and this lady says she will follow in his footsteps," said Ghulam Haider, 51, a cook who was bicycling home and stopped to take one of Attah's fliers. "What we really need from our next leader is to negotiate with the Taliban. They are our brothers, and the foreigners have destroyed our country. We have to end this war."

Several other candidates, including Ghani and former anti-drug official Mirwais Yasini, have developed substantive policy platforms but tend to campaign in the traditional Afghan way, through private meetings and elaborate receptions for visiting provincial elders.

Like Abdullah, both men are former senior aides to Karzai who broke with the president and are now highly critical of his performance. Ghani has lambasted Karzai for wasting billions in foreign aid and allowing corruption to poison the state.

Yasini tends to sound the same alarm, blaming Karzai for running the government like a crony enterprise and cozying up to ethnic strongmen. He is the only candidate -- including the president -- who has dared to speak strongly in favor of keeping Western troops in the country, but he scoffs at opinion polls predicting he and other challengers have little chance.

"Unless the election is rigged, Karzai is not unbeatable," Yasini said in an interview. "He thought he could use the warlords, but they won't help him because the people are fed up with these dragons. This boat is sinking, and if Karzai stays or the wrong man takes his place, the country will drown."

Support pledged to presidential wannabes

Source: PAN

KABUL - Public meetings were organised on Thursday in different parts of the country in support of the various presidential election candidates.

Around 1,500 people joined one such meeting in Mehtarlam, capital of the eastern Laghman province, in support of presidential hopeful and former foreign minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

Najibullah Safi, in charge of Dr. Abdullahs election campaign, told Pajhwok Afghan News people from Mehtarlam and adjoining districts participated in the meeting. He said majority of the participants were mujahideen, ulema (religious scholars) and youths.

Maulvi Gul Nabi, a religious scholar, said the people could no more tolerate imprecise bombing by foreign troops. We dont need such a president whose people are killed in bombings and he weeps in utter helplessness.

Another public meeting was held in Hisar Shahi district of the eastern Nangarhar province in support of another aspirant Syed Jalal Karim Nabagha. Around 4,000 people from Jalalabad and other districts attended the event.

Addressing the audience, Jalal Nabagha criticised his rivals President Karzai, Dr. Abdullah, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Mirwais Yasini. He said they were faulting a system they created with their own hands.

He promised in case of success, he would implement the Islamic system and work for the expulsion of foreign troops. A tribal elder Zarab Gul praised Nabagha as a talented young man who wanted to implement Shariah in the country and this was the main reason behind their support for him.

A third meeting was held in Jalalabad, where Motasim Billah was assured of backing. Officials said around 500 people participated in the gathering. A religious scholar Maulvi Abdul Latif said the wannabe belonged to a religious family and he had rendered services for the countrymen during jihad.

Hundreds of people joined a gathering in Asadabad, capital of the eastern Kunar province, to announce their support to another presidential contestant and former attorney general Abdul Jabbar Sabit.

In Lashkargah, capital of Helmand province, women held a public meeting, announcing support to President Hamid Karzai. Officials running Karzais election campaign said around 2,000 women from different districts attended the gathering.

Nasima Niazi, representative of Helmand in the Lower House of Parliament, urged participants to vote Hamid Karzai during the elections, slated for August 20.

At a similar gathering was held in the central Maidan Wardak province, again in favour of in support of the incumbent president. Haji Hazrat Muhammad Janan, head of Karzai's poll campaign in the province, said around 9,000 people participated in the meeting.

In Kapisa province, election campaigners for Karzai launched a two-day karate championship featuring around 200 athletes. People have different views about the competition. Some say it is a ploy to drum up support for Karzai while others argue it is mainly for recreational purposes.

Muhammad Iqbal Safi, head of Karzais campaign in Kapisa, said all expenses of the games were paid by the presidents supporters.

Head of the Kukushkai Karate in Kabul Syed Ismail said he joined the competition along with a group of 50 players to improve their skills. However, after arriving in Mahmud Raqi, he said, they came to know the competition was organised to muster support for Karzai.

MP case taken up 4 years after her election

Source: NNI
KABUL - A lower court took up the case of Kubra Alam Shahi, a member of the Lower House of Parliament, for hearing nearly four years after her election. Hosay Andar, her rival in the election, had challenged her election to parliament on the ground that she was an Iranian citizen and did not qualify for contesting the polls under the relevant election law. Alam Shahi was represented by lawyer Amruddin Qateh in the court, which put off the hearing for two weeks. The petitioner was present in person to plead her case against the lawmaker. Judge Rahimi Razayee observed the first and foremost thing was to get clear information about the nationality of Shahi and that was why the case was referred to his court. In her complaint, the runner-up candidate said: Kubra Alam Shahi had filed her papers as a candidate for the parliamentary election and I challenged the same on the ground that she is an Iranian national, but no attention was paid to my complaint by the Election Commission. She claimed Alam Shahi had got five Afghan IDs with serial numbers 10341010, 360118, 384318, 7203118 and 360421. She was shown as the granddaughter of Shah Barat in one, Syed Baseer Ahmad in another and Muhammad Nasir Nasiryan in yet another identity card. She said investigations revealed Shahi also possessed an Iranain ID (57167), mentioning her name as Kubra Bibi Nasiryan, daughter of Muhammad Nasir Nasiryan. She said all security organs of the country as well as Interpol had confirmed Shahis Iranian citizenship and some of them had termed it not only a wrong act but also a crime. Hosay Andar added the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had confirmed the arrival of Shahi and her husband Dr. Sabaghi in Afghanistan as refugees following the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Under the election law, any one participating in polls must be an Afghan citizen or he/she must have obtained citizenship 10 years before the election.

MPs Cannot Attend Campaign Rallies

Source: Quqnoos

Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) terms MPs’ participation in election campaigns ‘against the law’

Fahim Hakim, a senior IEC official Sunday warned MPs to not represent people to support a specific presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.

“There is no problem if they [MPs] represent only themselves in the campaign rallies,” Mr Hakim declared.

The IEC seeks challenges against those parliamentarians who campaign for a specific presidential candidate and urge people to vote for an individual whom the MPs prefer, Mr Hakim further insisted.

Based on article 152, President, Vice Presidents, Ministers, Parliament Members, Supreme Court judges are restricted to not get involved in any other tasks than their jobs.

A deputy speaker for the lower house of Afghan parliament, Amanullah Nayeb, argues that MPs ‘do not violate the law’ by attending meetings designed to support a presidential candidate.

A Kabul university law professor, Nasrullah Stanekzai dismisses the IEC’s allegation, argues that since drawing people’s support to a person is not an official occupation, MPs can take a part in presidential campaign rallies.

Afghan presidential and provincial council elections are slated for 20 August, 2009 in which 41 candidates including incumbent Hamid Karzai are campaigning for the presidency.

Pro-Karzai gathering draws criticism

Source: PAN

PUL-I-KHUMRI - In violation of the electoral law, officials of a government-owned fabric factory and national television Thursday took part in a gathering in favour of President Hamid Karzai's reelection bid in the northern Baghlan province.

Saadullah, a member of the Provincial Election Complaints Commission (PECC) in Baghlan  told Pajhwok Afghan News that the participation of a factory worker in such gatherings was against the electoral law.

Thursday's gathering in the courtyard of the Baghlan fabric factory was also attended by employees of the national television, who played the role of announcers, he added.  "This is contrary to the electoral law," Saadullah argued.

Senator Nazar Muhammad, campaign manager of Karzai, said the participants voiced their support for the president. The gathering came a day after participants of a similar public meeting in support of Karzai in Khost City were paid 500 afghanis each.

Pir Syed Shah, campaign manager for Karzai in Khost, said the guests were paid because they were not served lunch.

To a question why money was distributed to the participants, the head of Karzai election campaign Syed Shah said those people who had come to the venue from far-off areas were paid route fare and lunch cost.

A similar meeting violating the poll law was also held in the culture and information department of the northern Ghor province a month back.

Pro-Karzai rally participants paid

Source: PAN

KHOST CITY - An amount of 500 afghanis was paid to each participant of a public meeting organised in support of President Hamid Karzais election campaign in Khost City on Wednesday.

Majority of the participants were youths from the provincial capital and adjoining districts. Karzais campaign manager Pir Said Shah, head of Mujahideen Shura Maulvi Muhammad Sardar Zadran and local elders addressed the public meeting.

The speakers hailed the incumbent president as the most suitable of the 41 candidates. They asked the attendees to support Karzai during the upcoming presidential polls, scheduled for August 20.

Although several participants criticised some of the Karzai government's policies over the last few years, they said he was the most suitable man to lead the country and steer it out of the existing crises.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Pir Said Shah announced payment of 500 afghanis to each of the participants. He said organisers of the meeting wanted to arrange lunch for the guests, but they could not do so.

Taj Muhammad, one of the attendees, showed the 500 afghanis he collected from the organisers of the public meeting.

To the question why money was distributed to participants, the Karzai campaign head Pir Said Shah said those people had come from far-off areas. The amount was paid as route fare and lunch cost.

Head of the Independent Election Commission in Khost Abdul Rahman Muhabat told Pajhwok that gathering information about money distribution during election campaigns was not part of his duty.

Provincial candidate survives Taliban attack in N. Afghanistan

Source: Xinhua

KABUL - Taliban militants attacked the vehicle of a candidate for provincial council, injuring one of his guards in northern Afghan province of Takhar Friday night, provincial police said on Saturday.

"Hajji Jamshid escaped unhurt as unknown armed men opened fire at his car in Khoja Bahauddin district near his residence, but left one of his guards injured," Ziahuddin Mahmodi told Xinhua.

Meantime, Taliban's purported spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that Jashid and his two guards were injured seriously after attack carried out by his men.

The second presidential and provincial election in the post- Taliban country is to set on Aug. 20 this year while Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the election and warned Afghans to boycott it.

Pre-Election Offensive to Open in Herat

Source: Quqnoos

A massive operation is to launch in Taliban strongholds in the Afghan western province of Herat prior to August polls, officials said

The major offensive will target any militant elements known as a threat to the upcoming Afghan polls in the relatively peaceful Herat province, said provincial police chief, Brig Gen Esmatullah Alizai.

“Afghan and International troops will be reinforced to open the operation in the outskirts of Herat city,” Gen Alizai added.

Although the targeted locations have not yet revealed but insurgents’ presence is reported in the provincial capital’s nearby districts of Guzara, Robat Sangi and Khosh-e Kohna.

The operation is termed similar to the on-going US offensive in the southern Helmand province where more than 5,000 multinational troops, mostly American, are battling the Taliban militants.

Herat police chief voiced of preparations to safeguard the national polls in the restive districts, added that tribal elders vowed to support the operation.

“If the security situation gets better, we welcome the elections and will take part in it,” Ahmad, 34, a resident of Herat city said.

At least 100 policemen are under special training in the province to protect the ballots and pave the ground for people to cast their votes.

Despite the mounting Taliban-led insurgency over the past few days in Herat, provincial officials do not consider the attacks ‘a serious challenge’.

Militants, mostly affiliated to the Taliban movement raided police stations and military convoys in the districts of Ghoryan, Khosh-e-Kohna and Poshtoon Zarghoon of Herat province.

 A turning point in Afghanistan

Source: Times, UK

The US surge has all the elements of force, speed and surprise for military success. But to win, the allies must prepare for long-term deployment

In sending in a lightning strike force of 4,000 Marines to clear the Taleban from Helmand, Barack Obama is taking the riskiest strategic decision yet of his presidency. Operation Khanjar — “Strike of the Sword” — had been long prepared, with the announcement of 17,000 extra troops for Afghanistan, the steady build-up of 8,500 Marines in the province in the past two months and the tight co-ordination with the Afghan and Pakistani armies. But as thousands of US troops stormed into the Helmand river valley yesterday, they had all the elements of surprise, speed and overwhelming force, the classic elements of military success. If the strategy works, the operation could mark a turning point in the war. If it fails to stem the reverses and the bloodshed, it could demoralise Nato further, accelerate Afghanistan’s downward spiral and seriously damage Mr Obama’s authority at home and overseas.

The goal of the operation is clear: to move into the stronghold of the Taleban so rapidly and in such force that the enemy has no time to resist, regroup or flee. Pakistan has agreed to move up large numbers of its own troops to the frontier to prevent Taleban fighters escaping to the refuge of tribal territories. The Afghan Army, deployed alongside the Americans, will make it clear to the villages of Helmand that this is not a brief incursion: the Americans will occupy the ground, hold it and ensure that the insurgents do not return. US commanders will then begin the massive task of rebuilding the infrastructure, the economy and political stability. The troops will become familiar figures in the streets and markets. They will, symbolically, walk to work.

The influence of General David Petraeus is already clear. This is the same strategy that made the US surge in Iraq so effective. In Afghanistan, even more than in Iraq, what matters is the conviction among the local population that the allied forces are determined, better equipped and there for the duration. Afghans have for too long experienced three possibilities: occupation and control by foreign forces, or by the Taleban or — worst of all — temporarily by the allies followed by a vicious return of the Taleban. Their age-old response has been to offer allegiance and support either to the side that is decisively stronger or to the one that pays the more money to the tribes.

The US operation is what Britain and other Nato allies have been attempting for several years with marked lack of success. The reason is that it was always too little, too late. Britain’s forces were overstretched and underresourced. Early achievements, such as the capture of Musa Qala, were swiftly vitiated when the British were forced to withdraw. Yesterday, they were finally able to play a forward role, but suffered their most significant casualty, with the death of the commanding officer of the Welsh Guards. This only underlines the short-sightedness of the Treasury, which has refused to make the resources available for military success. It explains the bitterness of British commanders who have seen bravery and initiative thwarted by No 10’s refusal to authorise the troop levels needed.

The Taleban were caught on the wrong foot by the wave after wave of US helicopters landing behind their lines. Fighters entrenched for years in the valley melted away into the mountains. But the continuing threat should not be underestimated. The usual Afghan tactic is to withdraw, lie low and gradually reinfiltrate the villages. The US must now be robust in protecting those who want to register and vote in the forthcoming presidential election. It must move to deny traffickers and warlords the profits from the opium crop. And it must ensure that when US troop levels reach the planned 68,000, the initiative remains clearly with the allies. Victory is far from assured. But without bold action it was hopeless.
Karzai’s gimmick

Source: The Frontier Post
This could only be his gimmick, this exhortation of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Taliban to participate in the voting of upcoming presidential contest. And as frivolous it could be as were his earlier urgings to the Afghan Taliban to give up fighting and get into the nation's political mainstream, and to their leader Mullah Omar to come to Kabul for peace talks and be his guest. Had he been serious, all the right credentials he had to make for a perfectly credible and successful peacemaker with the Taliban.

His Pakhtun ethnicity and his intimate knowledge of Pakhtun culture, traditions and norms could have stood him in good stead in talking peace with Taliban, predominantly Pakhtuns. But he frittered away his enviable strong point simply by falling into servilely playing the ball with his foreign patrons, showing no zest to be his own man and a sovereign head of state, independent in decision-making and taking actions in his nation's best interests. Others could be spurning and disrespectful of the Afghan history and objective ground realities. For their indebtedness to Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance in helping oust the Taliban from power, they could afford expediently to prop up Afghan minorities to the detriment of the Pakhtun majority, virtually reducing it into a second-class citizenry, a people who traditionally had been the kings and kingmakers over the times.

Had Karzai asserted himself, he would have not let this hatchet work happen with the history and inviolable realities of Afghanistan. Surely, if wisdom and sanity were to be his guides, he would have ensured the rightful place for the Pakhtun majority in the nation's power dispensation, where its existence is now conspicuous more for absence than for presence. That would have created all the space for him to woo the moderate Taliban over to the national mainstream and ways of peace, isolating the diehards to hobble, cripple and disable. But then he was dancing in the mesmerising adulation of the international community, especially of the powerful West, numbing his sense and sensibility; drawing accolades even for his fancy robes, dizzying him away even to know what his war-ravaged and strife-torn nation needed imperatively to pacify was not the fanciness of dress but the fanciness of thoughts and ideas. The horrid outcome of his intoxicated servility and subordination is a wholesale alienation of the Pakhtun majority with Kabul, on which the Taliban are feeding richly to fatten their muscle power and wrest territory into their control. Truth about the present-day Afghanistan is hard to come by, though; it is suppressed, twisted or untold.

By every account, the Taliban are aggressively and lethally resurgent. They hold the country's south and east under their sway, with several districts in their full administrative control. They are even expanding to the north and the west. What should come more disturbingly to Kabul and the international coalition forces are the reports that Taliban have dished up the ubiquitous Pakhtun disgruntlement into rabid Pakhtun nationalism and a popular Pakhtun resistance against foreign occupation. That puts into big question mark the ultimate efficacy of President Barack Obama's new strategy to pacify Afghanistan and the effectiveness and success of his troops surge to this effect. By every indication, it is going to be a very tough job, not to be helped much either by the US new plan to combat Afghanistan's booming drugs trafficking, which is sure to hurt more Afghan warlords, ministers, government officials, and even Karzai's own family allegedly involved in this illicit business than the Taliban.

Taliban in all likelihood are going to be a hard nut to crack. Opportunities once lost do not come back, anyway. Karzai lost the chance to win over moderate Taliban when after their ouster, they were dispirited and in disarray. He threw away that opportunity, which is not going to come back to him now in any case. For no strong contender in the presidential race, he is widely billed to be a shoo-in. But the election he might win, but in rule he will be not. The reports emanating from the world capitals in wide circulation that Americans, backed up by their western and Arab allies, are contemplating to install a chosen satrap to run the country with Karzai sitting atop as a mere figurehead. Given Afghanistan's dependence on foreign dole to subsist and survive, Karzai will perforce again be playing just a valet.

Talking peace with Taliban will be none of his charge. Others will be in charge, if at all some such move is ever undertaken by the powers in control of the Afghans destiny. So if he goes down in the history not as a national hero but as a betrayer, he will have himself to blame.

Afghan group slams Karzai's 'warlord' vote ticket

Source: AFP
KABUL:- An Afghan rights watchdog on Tuesday slammed President Hamid Karzai's choice of two "notorious warlords" for his August re-election bid and accused him of promising ministries to supporters.

In a report, the independent Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) called on the United States and United Nations, which are bankrolling the landmark election, to intervene in defence of democracy.

Karzai has successfully squashed challenges to his two vice president running mates, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili, ARM said.

Both are believed to have links with illegal militia and criminal groups, it said, adding Karzai "has chosen two notorious warlords as his election mates in a bid to win votes from former mujahideen militias."

Human Rights Watch and Western diplomats have complained in particular over Fahim, a former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban military commander alleged to be involved in past and present crimes.

In its report "The Winning Warlords," ARM said challenges were registered to bar Fahim and Khalili from standing on August 20 over alleged war crimes and crime but a "corrupt procedure" allowed them into the vote.

The poll is the second presidential election in Afghan history but ARM said pre-election deals to sew up the result had dashed hopes it would allow Afghans to exercise new-found democracy.

"Undemocratic forces that have constantly gained power and wealth over the past several years seem to be hijacking the election process to ensure their future interests and legitimise their grip on political and public institutions.

The electoral debate starts in the North

Source: UNAMA - By: Alexandre Brecher-Dolivet
Election fever is sweeping the north of Afghanistan as posters of candidates start to line the streets.

They've started to bloom around the blue mosque of Mazar-i-Sharif, on the walls of Sar-i-Pul city and along the streets of Aqcha, focusing everyone's attention on the 20 August, the date of the first round of the presidential election, the first all-Afghan led election since 1970.

On market day in the north at the shops selling colourful fruits and silky carpets, in the crowded restaurants, or simply over the winding streets, all the conversations are the same, focused on this milestone, this decisive moment for the future of Afghanistan.

"We want peace!" claimed Mohammad Nassim, a carpet seller in Jawzjan. "If we have a stable situation in the region, then traders from other parts of the country would come, and I will be able to improve my business," he said.

"The next president's priority should be to reinforce the peaceful situation of the north. Then we will also be able to attract investors from neighbouring countries. This could be an important step forward four our national economy, and for the development of the country," he added.

A few metres further, Yonus is cooking a kebab. He's owned his restaurant for more than forty years.

"I remember the 1970 election," he said. "At that time, the situation was far better than now. But this year, I hope that the electoral process will be a success. We now have the ability to organize these elections ourselves, and to choose the best candidate. This election will sanction the improvements that have been made since 2001."

Around the Blue Shrine of Mazar, Farida a 35 year old women, is quietly strolling with her little girl.

"The human rights issue is very important in the northern region. The welfare of the region's inhabitants should be the key concern of the candidates. Also, by a fair sharing of the resources, we could reduce poverty in the provinces, and improve the life of the people. I'm thinking about my daughter. She deserves decent living conditions," said Farida.

Sitting on a bench, in the shadow of the earthenware minarets, a group of students is discussing education.

"We should make efforts on education, in particular in the most remote areas of the region. Education is the root of the country. But the number of illiterate people is still very high. The next government should improve the schools, in order to allow more kids to be educated," said one of the students.

"We want this election to be a success. Democracy can work in Afghanistan. We should prove it to the world," said Rafiullah, a 70 year old retired engineer from Mazar, who was sitting on a nearby bench listening to the students.

As a witness of the three decades of war that ravaged his country, he placed a lot of hope in the election: "A new momentum was born in 2001. We need to preserve it and continue to follow the light at the end of the tunnel."

Through this electoral process, people start to speak. To express their needs, their hopes, and their fears, feeding this vibrant debate that takes place across the country. At the dawn of the campaign, the north of Afghanistan as well starts to dream about a brighter future

Karzai tells Taliban to vote in Afghan elections

Source: Reuters - By: Hamid Shalizi
KABUL:- Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban and their allies on Saturday to vote in August's elections rather than attempt to disrupt the nation's second presidential poll.

The August 20 vote is seen as a crucial moment for Karzai's government and for Washington, which is sending thousands of extra troops this year as part of President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan.

"I appeal to them (the Taliban) again and again to avoid any conflicts, not only during polling days but forever," Karzai told a news conference at his heavily guarded palace.

"Through elections we can bring peace and security, and through elections we can bring development," he said.

The Taliban, whose strict Islamist government was ousted after a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have repeatedly rejected the election as a Western-inspired sham.

The Taliban have also rejected Karzai's calls for them to join the peace process, saying no talks can take place until all foreign troops have left the country.

Washington has already almost doubled the number of its troops from the 32,000 in the country in late 2008 in order to secure the elections and to combat a growing Taliban insurgency.

Karzai has ruled since the Taliban's ouster and won the nation's first direct vote for president in 2004.

A clear favorite to win again, he welcomed meetings held by foreign officials and diplomats with some of the 40 candidates opposing him, particularly his main rivals, former senior ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.

But he also called on the international community not to interfere and to play an impartial role. Most of the more than $230 million the Afghan election will cost is being provided by Washington and its allies.

An unflattering report by leading think tank the International Crisis Group this week said poor security and failure to capitalize on gains since the 2004 poll meant widespread fraud was possible in the voting.

The Taliban-led insurgency has reached its most violent level since 2001, U.S. military commanders have said. It has grown out of traditional Taliban strongholds in the south and east into the once relatively peaceful north and to the fringes of Kabul.

Karzai invites Taliban to vote in election

Source: Associated Press - By: RAHIM FAIEZ
President Hamid Karzai on Saturday called on Taliban and other militants to ""vote for the president they want'' in Afghanistan's presidential election, while a Taliban spokesman said militants would ""disrupt'' the vote without harming civilians.

Forty-one candidates are running for president in the Aug. 20 vote. A recent poll showed Karzai with a big lead over his opponents despite accusations of widespread government corruption and the increasingly bloody Taliban-led insurgency.

""I call upon the Taliban to come and participate in Afghanistan's election, to vote for and elect their future president,'' Karzai said at a news conference.

The Taliban are not fielding candidates and have warned Afghans against voting in the election. A militant spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said insurgents will ""try our best to disrupt the election'' because the U.S. supports the election process.

""Whatever is to the benefit to the Americans, we are against it,'' Mujahid said.

Mujahid said there would be no attacks on places where there would be civilian casualties, suggesting that polling stations would not be targeted. However, he said militants would disrupt the election, but he refused to say how.

Karzai called on the international community to be impartial in the election, and he appeared to criticize a recent meeting between U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and top challenger and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who has said he would seek to decentralize power out of Kabul and give provincial capitals more authority.

The president said international diplomats had the right to meet with candidates, but he said candidates shouldn't discuss their platforms with foreign representatives in attendance.

Karzai said Afghanistan will continue to support the fight against terrorism no matter who wins the presidency.

In the country's latest violence, Taliban militants attacked a checkpoint just north of the provincial capital of Helmand late Friday, killing eight police, said Daoud Ahamdi, the governor's spokesman. He said it appeared some of the police had a link with the militants and facilitated the attack. Two police were missing, he said.

In the eastern province of Laghman, a remote control bomb killed the deputy provincial police chief of Kunar province and one civilian Saturday, said Sayed Ahmad Safi, the spokesman for Laghman's governor.

8,000 Afghans to be trained as observers for elections

Source: NNI
KABUL:- More than eight thousand Afghans will be trained as observers for the forthcoming presidential and provincial council elections on 20 August. It’s not only the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and its staff who are busy ahead of polling day, says a press release issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Jandad Spinghar is running the “other half” of the election process: observation. In August, Mr Spinghar’s office, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan that normally has only about 20 staff, is going to be one of the biggest organizations in the country observing the elections, employing about 8,000 people. “We will be able to cover about 70 per cent of all polling stations,” said Mr Spinghar. He added that ensuring the observer presence in the remaining 30 per cent would be next to impossible due to security reasons. There will be about 29,000 polling stations in the 34 provinces across the country. FEFA, supported by various international organizations including the election project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP/ELECT), is the single largest civil society organization in Afghanistan that is dedicated to election observation. It also conducted observation of the 2004/05 elections. Of the 8,000 observers, 400 will be long-term observers working with FEFA for about a month and the rest will be short-term observers working for just 10 days. While FEFA itself recruits the full-time observers, the short-term observers will be recruited by its 15 partner organizations spread across the country. Spinghar said that though the presence of international observers is very critical for elections in Afghanistan, the security situation in the country may not allow effective international observation. “Of course, it is good if we get large number of international observers. People believe that they are neutral,” said Mr Spinghar. “But, we don’t expect a lot of international observers because of security. They won’t be able to come in large numbers and they can’t go to rural areas.” The European Union (EU), among other international bodies, is going to send an election observation mission to Afghanistan. The most senior UN official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide told NATO Defence Ministers on 12 June that the UN is expecting “election observers and experts” from the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Too few, I think, and therefore I encourage nations to send observer teams,” Mr Eide told the ministers. “Our task will be to coordinate their deployment to ensure that as much as possible of the country can be covered.” Margie Cook, the chief electoral advisor at UNDP/ELECT, said election observation measures “the legitimacy and credibility” of the election process, while stressing the importance of having as many international observers as possible. “It (election observation) is important that the data that is gathered is gathered in a measurable way, that it’s accurate, that it’s not anecdotal, that there is evidence to back it up, and that the analysis is thorough and careful so that it is a reliable and true picture of what went on,” said Ms Cook. “It’s a process that must be supported and it must take place.”

Afghan Presidential Candidate Takes a Page From Obama's Playbook
Ashraf Ghani has embarked on an Internet fundraising campaign modeled on that run by Obama

Source: U.S. News & World Report - By: Anna Mulrine
As candidates in Kabul launch their official bids for the Afghan presidency this week, consultants in Washington are helping some of them draw upon American-style campaign tactics to build up their war chests and pull ahead in the polls.

Presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, the leading challenger to incumbent Hamid Karzai, has embarked on an Internet fundraising campaign modeled on that run by President Obama. The plan, says one American campaign consultant, is to appeal to "relatively young people outside the country" through a Web drive aimed at expatriates who have been contributing an average of $10 to $20. Campaign workers say that though these émigrés cannot vote, they wield not only cash but also substantial influence. "Most of them support families in Afghanistan, and those families see them with respect," says one Ghani volunteer in Kabul. "That respect influences their decision."

These are pivotal decisions in a high-stakes summer election season that will culminate with the vote on August 20. Though Karzai remains the front-runner, U.S. officials have expressed concern that he has promised control of sizable swaths of territory to men widely considered to be warlords in exchange for their support. It is deal-making that could lead to larger post-election problems. Karzai has promised more posts to warlords than are available; if he wins, it could cause infighting, officials say, and perhaps civil war. The most notorious pledge has been Karzai's choice of Mohammed Fahim to be his vice presidential running mate. Karzai dumped Fahim from his ticket during his 2004 election bid, a move many hailed at the time as a brave stand against one of many strongmen who still hold power throughout the country.

But while Karzai's maneuvering deeply concerns U.S. officials, they also concede that it is likely to be effective in allowing him to be re-elected despite deteriorating security throughout the country and charges of corruption that dog his administration. Ghani volunteers also note that because Karzai is an incumbent, he has use of government resources not available to cash-strapped candidates, including helicopters. Since Karzai also appoints the governors of Afghanistan's provinces, they campaign for him as well.

These are disparities that rival campaigns are privately urging American officials to investigate and rectify. For their part, campaigners for Ghani are hopeful that their candidate's record will sway voters. A contender for the post of secretary general of the United Nations in 2006, Ghani has a strong base of support among Afghans who emphasize his reform-minded initiatives and development projects during his time as Afghanistan's finance minister from 2002 to 2004.

As billboards for rival candidates go up in Karzai strongholds like Kandahar, Ghani volunteers point to recent polls that show that fewer than one third of Afghans say they would vote for Karzai again. They note that contributions to the Ghani website, though admittedly modest, are picking up. And the campaign is in talks with heavy-hitting Democratic political consultant James Carville. Still, as the campaign is heating up and violence is reaching record levels, the stakes, officials add, could not be higher.

Karzai accepts rivals’ debate challenge

Source: PakTribune
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to take part in a public debate with his key rivals as part of an ongoing presidential campaign ahead of the August 20 poll, a spokesman for his election campaign said on Tuesday.

Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the Taliban were toppled in late 2001 and won the country’s first direct vote for president three years later, is losing popularity over lack of rule of law, endemic corruption and growing insecurity. Several of his former cabinet ministers, who are among 40 candidates contesting Karzai’s job, last week invited him to spell out the reasons behind these developments. Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Karzai’s campaign, said the president would announce a timetable for taking part in a public debate with key candidates.

Karzai, seen as weak and possibly beatable earlier this year, has consolidated his grip on power in recent weeks by winning endorsements from some former rivals and key ex-leaders of armed groups who helped US forces oust the Taliban. An opinion poll released last week by the US-based International Republican Institute and conducted before the final list of candidates was published, found 31 percent of Afghans polled said they would back Karzai.

The poll also said most of the rest of the voters surveyed split their support between candidates who have since dropped out of the race and would now likely back Karzai as an alternative. Securing the elections and defeating the spreading Taliban-led insurgency will be the biggest test so far for Washington and its NATO allies in Afghanistan.

U.S. adviser: No preferred candidate in Afghan poll

Source: Associated Press
KABUL:- President Obama's national security adviser insisted Tuesday that the U.S. does not support or oppose any candidate in Afghanistan's presidential race, but the Afghan government's top spokesman said the U.S. may be interfering.

President Hamid Karzai is believed to be the favorite in the Aug. 20 vote, though many Afghans and international officials have criticized his performance. Obama's administration in its early days called Karzai's government inefficient and corrupt, but U.S. officials have toned down criticism of a leader who may win a second five-year term.

Gen. James Jones, the U.S. national security adviser, met with Karzai and three leading opposition candidates Tuesday. Jones said America "neither supports nor opposes any legitimate candidate" and is interested in creating a level playing field for all.

"Our sole interest is in supporting stability, security and the constitutional government of Afghanistan to which we are contributing significant assistance," Jones said during a visit to the country's Independent Electoral Commission.

Karzai's spokesman, meanwhile, charged that U.S. officials could be taking the strategy too far by meeting with candidates, saying that the U.S. does not have the right to interfere in the political process by consulting with politicians about their political platforms.

"If these meetings are to express views on the candidate's platform, or confirm the platform of some candidates, that would be a clear violation of national sovereignty and we see that as an interference," spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said at a news conference.

If the meetings are for the "betterment of the election process," the Afghan government has no problem with that, Hamidzada said. Any such meetings should be arranged through the Afghan foreign ministry, he said.

Jones first visited Karzai at the presidential palace and later held a joint meeting with the three top opposition candidates: Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister; Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister; and Mirwais Yasini, a deputy speaker of parliament.

Journalists were invited to take pictures and video at the meeting with the opposition leaders, which took place inside the U.S. Embassy.

"It is our policy to make sure that to the greatest extent possible voters in Afghanistan have the access to the candidates and the candidates have an opportunity to express their views and to be heard," Jones said. "This is consistent with the way the United States deals with the other governments who have democratic elections."

He called the elections "key milestones in Afghanistan's democracy" and called on the government and its international partners to create conditions for a free and fair vote.

Thousands of newly deployed U.S. and NATO troops will help provide security for the election. Afghan officials are studying how to carry out voting in at least 10 rural districts where the government has no control.

Jones is traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss the Obama administration's revamped strategy for the volatile region. He will also stop in India.

In the latest violence Tuesday, three German soldiers German troops were killed in a firefight with insurgents in Kunduz province, the German Defense Ministry said.

In central Afghanistan, a suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of international troops in central Ghazni province, said governor's spokesman Ismail Jahangir. Two civilians were killed.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed three employees of an Afghan nonprofit group working with the U.N. to deliver assistance in northern Jowzjan province. Their vehicle hit the bomb while they were heading to a project site, said Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, which was working with the group Development and Humanitarian Services for Afghanistan.

Three police were killed in Kandahar province when their patrol vehicle hit a roadside bomb, said Kandahar police chief Matiullah Khan.

Meanwhile, NATO forces said they had successfully taken control of a Taliban stronghold through a major air operation in southern Helmand province. More than 500 troops were involved in the offensive, which started June 19 and continued through Monday.

NATO forces said in a statement that the goal of the strike had been to secure a number of canal and river crossings to establish a permanent NATO presence in the area and make it possible for residents to vote in August elections.

The statement says "a number of insurgents" were killed, but it did not give an exact figure.

Corruption crusader aims for Afghan Presidency

Source: NNI
KABUL:- Ramazan Bashardost’s election campaign seems better suited for a student government race than a drive for the presidency of Afghanistan. Each day, dozens of volunteers visit his headquarters, a dust-blown tent on a dirt road, eager to hear his anticorruption platform. The 47-year-old scribbles down their contact details - he has collected about 3,000 names- and asks them to purchase his election poster for 10 cents. They comply with remarkable obedience, The New York Times reported. In most places, such grassroots antics from a lone-wolf idealist would be stuff of the fringe. But in a sign of just how disenchanted some Afghans have become with their government, Mr. Bashardost, a doctoral scholar who lived in France for two decades, is widely believed to be at least fourth in popularity among 42 candidates in the August elections. A radical independent, Mr. Bashardost has a calming monk-like demeanor that contrasts sharply with his accusatory politics. He has lashed out against the Communists for allowing the Soviet invasion- the subject of his dissertation. He has called for war crime tribunals against jihadist leaders of the 1990s. Lately, he has vociferously attacked corruption among the technocrats, including President Hamid Karzai, who have ruled Afghanistan since 2001, and whom he dubs “orphans of Bush” and “the Taliban with neckties.” It is rhetoric that has prevented him from receiving any public endorsements, but, if nothing else, guarantees him the urban protest vote. Some speculate that Mr. Bashardost, a former planning minister and current member of Parliament, would be worth millions of dollars if he had swapped his principles for the political mainstream. “In my gut, I’d like to have a palace, girls and luxuries,” he said. “But when I see the poverty here, I don’t want it.” After publicly rejecting perks that President Karzai granted to other ministers, like land plots and $60,000 cars, Mr. Bashardost is a modern-day Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who crusaded against corruption by living in a tub, and who roamed the streets in daylight with a lamp in search of an honest man. The closest thing Mr. Bashardost has to a home is a dented 1991 Suzuki compact car that cost him $1,500. In the summer, he sleeps beside the tent in a barren room with plastic-covered windows. In the winter, he lives with his parents, despite tensions.

Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai accused of compiling coalition of 'gangsters and warlords'
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been accused of completing a coalition of "gangsters and warlords" after rehabilitating a notoriously brutal strongman in a suspected election deal

Sourc: Telepgraph - By: Ben Farmer
General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek militia leader, once boasted of pulverising thieving soldiers on his tank tracks, while his men were accused of suffocating hundreds of captives by packing them into shipping containers.

He was temporarily suspended from his post as chief of staff to the military's commander-in-chief last year after the alleged kidnap and torture of a political rival.

Since then, he has lived in informal exile in Turkey under a deal in which Mr Karzai's international backers sought to marginalise him from Afghan politics.

However, days after Gen Dostum's party pledged electoral backing to the president, a statement from Mr Karzai's palace has now stressed the general has full rights and is free to return whenever he wishes.

The addition of Gen Dostum, who leads northern Afghanistan's Uzbek faction, sees Mr Karzai complete a controversial alliance of ethnic strongmen and former warlords for this summer's presidential elections.

Mr Karzai last month defied international diplomats by choosing Mohammad Qasim Fahim, another ex-militia leader, as his running mate.

"You have to question whether these people are the right people to lead the country forward," said one international official in Kabul.

"They are gangsters and warlords. Just because someone is good with an AK-47 doesn't mean they will be good for the country's future."

Western diplomats have complained the continued dominance of men who presided over the country's savage civil war is a serious obstacle to rebuilding the country.

Nader Nadery, who chairs the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, said the blatant political horse-trading was also alienating voters.

He said: "With these deals a lot of people have lost confidence in real participatory democracy.

Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies, said Mr Karzai had comprehensively out-manoeuvred his opponents in the August 20 presidential poll.

He said: "Elections in Afghanistan are not built on an agenda or a political position. People will decide based on an individual person and charisma. Mr Karzai thinks by bringing these big faces on board he will win votes."

A spokesman for Mr Karzai denied an electoral deal and said Gen Dostum had always been free to return

A GUEST'S PERSPECTIVE: Fahim shouldn't be Karzai's running mate

Source: The Daily Aztec - By: Sarah Grieco, Contributing Columnist
Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, has been making a few mistakes lately. Last month he signed a law that made it legal for men to rape their wives. Now he has appointed a former warlord to be his vice presidential running mate in the upcoming elections. Karzai said he would review the law permitting spousal rape, but is sticking by his choice of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who is an ex-guerrilla chief, as his vice presidential candidate.

Karzai is just trying to be a politician, and gain votes by appointing Fahim. But this isn’t the typical “reaching across the aisle.” The repercussions of appointing a former warlord do not bode well for the citizens of Afghanistan.

Karzai should know that the world is closely watching Afghanistan’s political activity. By appointing a man associated with conflict and military dominance, Karzai is going against his stated belief that militias ruled by warlords need to be disarmed. In a time when war is prevalent in the region, Karzai should appoint a vice president who will help end hostility in his country, not someone who was part of the problem.

In 2004 when Karzai was originally running for president, he dropped Fahim as his running mate and instead went for another candidate. This was a bold statement against weapon-heavy militias overseen by warlords, and it was a step in the right direction toward a more peaceful Afghanistan.

It’s puzzling, then, to see him now welcome the former guerrilla chief into a position of power. Karzai is hoping to gain votes from Fahim’s supporters, but he will be sacrificing the global image of Afghanistan in the process.

The real problem with Fahim is his involvement in criminal activity. Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams stated, “He is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.”

The Associated Free Press has also reported, “Diplomats in Kabul have alleged that Fahim was involved in criminal activities, including kidnappings for ransom, and rights abuses during Afghanistan’s decades of war.”

This unsavory reputation begs the question why Karzai appointed Fahim as his vice presidential running mate. The link between Afghanistan’s president and a notorious warlord sends the wrong message, to both the people of their country and the members of the United Nations. The connection formed between these two is a dangerous one, and must be terminated before Fahim has a chance to sway Karzai in a harmful direction.
Karzai recently stated, “We will endeavor to bring security, peace and tranquility to Afghanistan.” But his new right-hand man, someone who has neither promoted nor encouraged peace in Afghanistan, detracts that endeavor. As vice president, Fahim will undermine the stability Afghanistan is striving for.

The U.N. and the current administration should speak up against vice presidential pick Fahim. The U.S. has not only fought for a democratic process in Afghanistan, but has also pledged $40 million to aid their elections. Afghanistan’s relationship with the world is still in need of improvement, and Fahim will hinder possibilities for unity.

Karzai needs to replace Fahim with a leader who is not considered controversial by many world leaders. If he wants peace in Afghanistan, then he needs to recognize that a former warlord is unlikely to support a peaceful agenda. Political corruption is the last thing Afghanistan needs right now, and Karzai needs to act on behalf of his people.

—Sarah Grieco is a public relations sophomore.

Karzai Victory Is Just the Ticket for Regional Commanders

Source: Washington Post - By: Griff Witte
MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan:- President Hamid Karzai is considered a strong favorite to win reelection when Afghans go to the polls this summer. But here in northern Afghanistan, one of the country's most peaceful regions, there is little doubt who will be in control when the elections are over, and it's not Karzai.

Rather, it is the same men who have ruled this territory off and on for decades, regional commanders who have divvied up the land into personal fiefdoms and transformed central government institutions, including the police, into instruments of their will.

With two months to go until the vote, most of these commanders -- critics call them warlords -- are lining up to endorse the president's reelection bid. Analysts say that if Karzai secures another term, the commanders who supported the president are likely to be rewarded with a guarantee of continued power.

The enduring influence of these strongmen reflects the fragility of the U.S.-backed government, which remains a government in name only across vast stretches of the country, even those not beset by Taliban insurgency. Indeed, the commanders' loyalty to the president seems to owe less to Karzai's strength as a leader than to his weakness.

"Who else would they support? They've lived a life of luxury under his government," said Golalai Nur Safi, a member of parliament who represents an area just outside Mazar-e Sharif, a desert metropolis on the Central Asian plains. "They see personal advantage in supporting him."

Safi is backing Karzai's reelection because she thinks he "is a good man who has a bad team" and because she sees no viable alternative. She is an outspoken critic of the commanders and of Karzai's pattern of caving in to their demands whenever he wants to shore up his position.

It was clearly illustrated this spring when Karzai picked two regional strongmen to serve as his running mates. The selection of one in particular, Mohammed Fahim, rankled critics. It was a direct reversal of Karzai's decision before the 2004 election to dump from his ticket the much-feared Tajik commander, who was then considered so power-hungry that U.S. officials worried he would launch a coup.

At the time, purging Fahim from the government was hailed as a watershed decision by the president to take a stand against Afghanistan's decades-long tradition of warlordism. Now, it strikes many observers as a rare moment of courage amid a much longer record of appeasing a rogues' gallery of human rights abusers.

"Where we stand today with the political landscape is not much different from where we started, and in some respects it's looking even worse," said Ahmad Nader Nadery, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "These so-called leaders are able to tell the disillusioned people that there's no other way, that 'we have access to the president, and you have to listen to us.' "

A Karzai spokesman, Hamid Zada, defended his leader's vice presidential picks as a way of bringing reconciliation to the long-fractured country. In a nation bitterly divided by ethnicity, Karzai's ticket includes a Pashtun (himself), a Tajik (Fahim) and a Hazara (Karim Khalili). "The president makes all his decisions based on the national unity of Afghanistan," Zada said.

The selections, he added, are also intended to pay tribute to the millions of Afghans who resisted Soviet occupation during the 1980s. "Fahim and Khalili represent a significant group of Afghans who fought the Soviets and paid the price," he said.

Karzai himself has never been a commander. Before his selection to lead Afghanistan in December 2001, he was a tribal chief and a diplomat who was known for his ability to mediate conflicts, not order men into battle.

In Afghanistan, where anyone younger than 30 has known only war and where the man with the most guns usually calls the shots, Karzai's lack of military bona fides is considered a liability. His Western backers -- the United States most particularly -- have encouraged his ties to the regional commanders to bolster his rule as the government combats a vicious Taliban insurgency.

The logic is that commanders who support the government and who inspire fierce loyalty among their followers can be useful in maintaining the security of areas that might otherwise be vulnerable to instability. By some measures, the strategy may have worked: Afghanistan's north and west, where the commanders are strongest, have also been the safest regions of the country.

But Karzai's reliance on the commanders has undeniably stunted the government's development, limiting its ability to extend its reach beyond Kabul, the capital. Afghanistan's central government has struggled throughout history to assert itself, with little success. The result has been a power vacuum filled by local leaders, most of whom are heavily subsidized by foreign governments that need vehicles through which to exert their influence in Afghanistan.

The enduring strength of the commanders has bred resentment among Afghans who see their government favoring the interests of the powerful. That has happened before: When the Taliban swept to power in the 1990s, deep disillusionment with the commanders' reign was a major reason why.

Ashraf Ghani, the technocratic former finance minister who is running against the president, said Karzai's choice of allies would backfire, arguing that after three decades of subjugation by men who have delivered no improvement in people's lives, Afghans have grown tired of the warlords.

"These people are not what they used to be," he said.

Many of the commanders are notorious for their brutality: One Karzai backer, the Uzbek strongman Abdurrashid Dostum, once ordered hundreds of prisoners packed into metal shipping crates, then left them to suffocate under the hot desert sun, human rights groups have reported.

Dostum has been in Turkey for six months but is not expected to stay away. Despite vocal criticism of Karzai over the years, Dostum has endorsed the president and is widely thought to be angling for control over Mazar-e Sharif after the election. This city, one of Afghanistan's largest, used to be Dostum's territory. He was pushed out by a rival commander, Attah Mohammed, several years ago and has wanted to get back in ever since.

The election could be his ticket. Mohammed is thought to be backing a Karzai challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, a gamble that could cost him the governorship of this province if Abdullah loses.

Technically, Mohammed is a Karzai appointee who represents the central government. In reality, locals say, Mohammed takes few cues from Kabul. Although all private militias were supposed to be disarmed years ago under an internationally mandated program, Mohammed retains an arsenal of tens of thousands of weapons, according to officials here.

Dostum and others have also maintained their arsenals, according to Gen. Mohammed Ali Razai, deputy police commander for northern Afghanistan.

"The people who had weapons in the past, they didn't hand them over. They still have their weapons, and they use them to their advantage," Razai said.

The internationally trained and funded Afghan National Police, he indicated, is still too small and is ill-equipped to challenge the commanders' power.

Residents say that the police are a problem and that many have been co-opted by Mohammed.

A local Pashtun tribal elder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said his life is under threat, accused Mohammed of using the police to silence critics and to persecute ethnic minorities, especially Pashtuns. The elder said the police have killed Pashtun leaders who challenge the authority of Mohammed, who is Tajik. He said the police then falsely claim that the dead Pashtuns were Taliban.

"These warlords have killed thousands of Muslims. Their hands are covered with the blood of innocent people," the elder said. "We have suffered for 30 years under these warlords, and we are suffering still."

Housing, jobs top priorities: Ghani

Source: NNI - By:
KABUL:- A key challenger to President Hamid Karzai, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, has said providing jobs to one million people and construction of a million residential houses were his top priorities. In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, the former finance minister said he wanted to become president to do away with corrupt practices and translate into action his research and analysis of the crises facing the war-weary nation. “I want to cash in on this chance in order to repay the debt I owe to Afghanistan. It is the Afghan people who made what I’m. The debt I owe to the nation shall be repaid,” he promised. Diagnosed with gastric cancer in 1997, he underwent a timely operation and recouped fully. He appeared completely fit, saying: “With the help of Almighty Allah, now I have fully recovered and am work 16 to 18 hours a day.” Asked what pushed him into politics, he replied over the last five years, he had been engaged in a broad-based research on reasons for multiple crises in Afghanistan. “I have devised a very effective strategy to resolve them. And that’s why I was left with no option, but to jump into politics for implementation of that strategy.” The former chancellor of Kabul University believed the problems haunting the country were the outgrowth of 30 years of mistakes with dire consequences. “A 10-year plan that I have worked out will enable the nation to convert these crises into stability,” he claimed. Formerly a World Bank official, Ghani voiced optimism that the people would vote him into the Presidential Palace on the basis of his impeccable fiscal husbandry and effective economic management that the nation had seen over the last five years during his tenure as finance minister. “I have international experience in leadership and management,” insisted Ghani, who thought that Afghanistan was gifted with enormous natural resources. But the bountiful natural wealth needed to be tapped and a proper mechanism had to be put in place to pass the benefits onto the masses. “A strong government, enforcing a prudent economic system rooted in public aspirations and a proactive foreign policy that could play a key role in mustering international support and aid from all countries should be the basis of our development agenda,” he stressed. Seen as a dark horse in the presidential race, Ghani reacted angrily to the idea of power-sharing by saying his goal was to enforce a national programme.

Afghanistan's Karzai defends choice of vice-president

Source: AFP
KABUL:- President Hamid Karzai defended Wednesday his pick of vice-president for his bid for re-election, saying Mohammed Qasim Fahim was a choice for unity and an Afghan government not influenced from "outside".

A former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban military commander, Fahim has been accused by Human Rights Watch as well as Afghan and other international critics of abuses including murder during Afghanistan's nearly three decades of war.

Western officials, some close to the United Nations, have alleged that he is also linked to gangs that are today involved in crimes such as kidnapping and drugs smuggling.

There were "too many allegations in Afghanistan against our personalities, against our people," Karzai said.

"Look, in America during their war of liberation and during the civil war and afterwards, a lot of people were celebrated as heroes. Afghanistan has heroes of its own, and so has Europe heroes of its own," he said.

Karzai dropped Fahim from his ticket in the first-ever presidential election in 2004 reportedly under pressure from Western allies.

But since the ouster of the extremist Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan has become home for people from former communists to mujahedeen and villagers.

"That is the Afghanistan I want to continue to preserve and take us to a next stage of stability," Karzai said.

"So the choosing of Fahim as my vice-president was a decision that I made for the good of the country, for the unity of the country, for the strength of Afghanistan, in which it has a government that is Afghan and not influenced from outside," he said.

The president also reflected allegations of rights abuses by figures in his government back onto the thousands of Western troops here to fight insurgents.

The troops have killed hundreds of civilians in error in their operations against insurgents, but the militants kill more ordinary Afghans in their attacks.

Human rights groups must "also begin to pay attention to the plight of the common people in Afghanistan who are suffering every day at violence perpetrated against them by various military forces, by various accidents," Karzai said.

Karzai has been the de facto leader of Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban in a US-led invasion. He is among 41 candidates for the August 20 presidential elections, the second in Afghanistan's turbulent history.

The signs are that he has a good chance of success despite his failure to rein in a Taliban-led insurgency and rampant corruption.

Election campaign echos political diversity in Afghanistan

Source: Xinhua - By Abdul Haleem
As the date for election campaign of presidential candidates formally begun on Tuesday in Afghanistan, several contenders for the country's highest executive post have launched their maiden drive to win over people's support.

"My prime objective is to oust the corrupt administration, provide job and shelter to one million people if win the election," a rival to incumbent president Hamid Karzai in the race, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai promised in a public meeting attended by some 1,000 of his supporters.

Ahmadzai, who served as Finance Minister in President Hamid Karzai's administration couple of years ago, described the present administration as a corrupt one, calling on Afghans to utterly reject Karzai on voting day.

Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (IEC) on Tuesday announced a two-month election campaign, commencing from June 16 and lasts until August 17.

"In line with the article 38 of Electoral law election, campaign begins formally from June 16 and closes down on August 17just 48 hours before beginning the voting," Director of Secretariat of IEC Ali Najafi told newsmen at a press conference Tuesday.

He noted that no one, including the president, is allowed to use state machinery for his interest during election campaign.

Today's Afghanistan is completely different from decade ago when the hard-liner Taliban outfit had established an autocratic regime and forced opponents either to surrender or to leave the country.

In the post-Taliban central Asian state, almost all the former foes are seen assembling in parliament, debating national issues and jointly taking decisions, a change unbelievable decade ago when Taliban was in power.

Like in the Afghan parliament, dozens of former foes are seen contesting the presidential election scheduled for August 20.

Contrary to the past decade, rivals in today's Afghanistan, instead of using gun resolve their disputes, contest for the country's top slot through political means and peacefully.

There are 41 candidates, prominent among are sitting President Hamid Karzai, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ahmadzai.

"Afghanistan has lost golden opportunities during Karzai's leadership over the past eight years. He has failed to achieve the goals he had promised to the people," Abdullah told a gathering of his supporters.

He also stressed that Afghans want change. "They want durable peace and stability, a dream that Karzai has failed to bring."

Abdullah enjoys the support of National Front of Afghanistan, an umbrella of over a dozen former foes-the then leftist pro-Moscow groups, royalists and former Mujahidin or anti-Soviets Union and anti-Taliban resistance leaders.

Among the presidential candidates there are a former Afghan Defense Minister Shah Nawaz Tanai, who served the Afghan army during the occupation of Afghanistan by the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Moreover, a Taliban former commander the bearded Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi and some technocrats who used to live in the west are also among the contenders striving to secure the country's presidency.

Streets in Kabul and other cities have been adorned with the portraits of presidential aspirants and slogans in their favor.

Rallies and meetings have been held by people in favor of certain candidates in different provinces and the process is going on amid security concerns, but no untoward incidents have been reported so far.

However, the war-weary Afghans who have enormous suffered due to prolonged instability and skirmishes as well as poverty and unemployment apparently showed little interest in the coming election.

"I have not decided so far to whom shall I vote. Increasing security incidents have forced me to abandon home in Helmand three years ago but since then I could not fine permanent job and regular income here in Kabul," said Ahmad Gul, a resident of militancy-hit Helmand province.

Around 17 million Afghans eligible to vote would go to ballot boxes on August 20 this year amid tight security to elect the country's head of state.

"I want the next president to ensure lasting peace and provide job opportunities. After studying the agenda of the candidates, I would decide to whom shall vote," a jobless youth Omid Khan observed.


Source: Skyreporter - By Arthur Kent
June 16, 2009 - He doesn’t travel with a platoon of heavily armed security men. He is not financed by carpetbaggers and war profiteers, or heroin khans and land-grabbers linked with the Presidential Palace. And his candidacy isn’t given much of a chance by officials at Kabul’s foreign embassies.

Yet in at least one crucial way Ramazan Bashardost, Member of Parliament, stands tall among the 40-plus candidates vying for Afghanistan’s top job in this summer’s presidential election. He’s on the record as one of the first and most consistent critics of the corruption-wracked Western-backed Karzai regime.

More than two years ago, the popular 44-year-old Kabul MP and former Planning Minister didn’t mince words when asked by skyreporter whether Hamid Karzai’s foreign sponsors could do more to combat corruption.

“The international community can say to Mr. Karzai: ‘it is our money, our people pay a lot of tax to help you, and this money is for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

“It is not so that some high Afghan authority becomes very rich, and the other Afghan people become more poor.’” (For the full story, see “Kabul’s Fat Cats,” posted March 9th, 2007, at http://skyreporter.com/blog/20070309_01/ )

In our Nov. 2007 article Cashing In On Karzai & Co. for Canada’s public policy institute, the IRPP, Bashardost was even more outspoken.

“The Afghan government is completely corrupted. The internal and external mafia should be totally removed. The authorities should be replaced by those real Afghans who believe in national benefits, human rights and democracy not only as political philosophy but as a philosophy of life.”

Bashardost took particular exception to the U.S. Defense Department awarding tens of millions of dollars in contracts to Hamed Wardak, the son of Karzai’s hard-drinking, under-achieving Defence Minister, Rahim Wardak.

“The United States and other western countries are not following their own laws. It is obvious to everyone that the contracts go to a minister's son or brother. You cannot get a contract unless you have connections.”

Sadly, neither the Bush administration nor any of its international allies acted on warnings such as these.

Belatedly, last year, the Americans tried to distance themselves from the crumbling House of Karzai, only to have the embattled Afghan president retaliate by openly allying himself with some of the most reviled strongmen in Kabul and across the country. Now Karzai is favored to win the August 20th vote.

Once Washington’s chosen one, Hamid Karzai has come full circle as yet another embodiment of blowback, the perpetual by-product of U.S. policies on Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the Reagan years through to the present.

Despite these gloomy realities, and the substantial odds against him, Ramazan Bashardost is undeterred. He receives visitors at his campaign headquarters – a tent, as has been his custom from the start - answering questions from voters and foreign journalists in an open, forthright manner.

It’s a sharp contrast to the self-styled “leading” challenger to Karzai, the prickly, some say volcanic academic, Ashraf Ghani.

Like Bashardost, Ghani was once one of Karzai’s ministers. But the similarities end there: Ghani would appear to have one of the best-bankrolled campaigns in the race.

Attempting, of late, to distance himself from the American component of his former dual citizenship (he surrendered his U.S. passport prior to registering as a candidate in Kabul last month) Ghani is reluctant to answer questions about his years among the newly-wealthy Afghan-American business community in Washington DC.

On April 3rd, skyreporter sent Ashraf Ghani an email containing five questions about his past. Mr. Ghani’s response was a terse message stating: “THIS IS NOW A LEGAL MATTER…” (his capitals), and featuring the name of an extremely costly law firm – based in Britain, not Afghanistan.

One of skyreporter’s questions referred to a matter Mr. Ghani has defended at some length on his own campaign website, namely his handling, while he was President Karzai’s Minister of Finance from 2002-2004, of funds from the Asian Development Bank. Questions regarding these transactions were raised in a rather unpleasant way by the president’s brother, Mahmoud Karzai.

Against this bleak and contentious background, the presidential election campaign is now officially underway.

There is nothing resembling what generals and overpaid private contractors like to call the "security situation," only varying degrees of insecurity. At least two candidates for August’s provincial elections have been murdered in recent weeks.

The 2009 presidential vote stands to be a much bloodier affair than either of Afghanistan’s debut exercises in representative democracy, the presidential contest of 2004 and its parliamentary counterpart the following year.

And at this late date, after seven years of incompetent Western stewardship, no amount of lawyers, guns and money can change that.

Obama Issues Statement on Afghan Elections

Source: Newsweek - By: Holly Bailey
President Obama has said twice in the last 24 hours that he doesn’t want to be seen as meddling in Iran’s political process. Now here comes this written statement from Obama on the upcoming elections in Afghanistan. We’ve posted the full statement just issued by the White House below, but here’s the jist: Whoever wins, we’ll work with them. It’s not hard to read between the lines here. For months, administration officials have been defending what some have described as “strained” ties between the White House and current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom some folks in Obamaland just don’t trust. The White House has tried to make nice with Karzai, even as some administration officials anonymously hint they wouldn’t mind working with someone else. Recently, they’ve tried to dial back. At a briefing on Afghanistan policy in May, a senior administration official repeatedly insisted the U.S. has no stake in the campaign beyond seeing that the democratic process was fair and just. “In the election -- and I cannot stress this too highly -- we are neither going to support nor oppose any candidate, including Hamid Karzai,” the official said. Obama doesn’t quite say that in his statement today—in fact, Karzai’s name isn’t mentioned once—but his words are much the same. Here’s Obama:

I congratulate the Afghan people on the start of your official election campaign period. On August 20 this year, the people of Afghanistan will choose a President to lead your nation, and also elect provincial councils to represent you locally.

The successful Presidential candidate will have a full agenda and high expectations. Afghan institutions must better serve the people. There must be full accountability and transparency, so that Afghans can see where their money is spent. Fighters who are ready to lay down their arms and embrace peace must be reintegrated. And Afghanistan needs to work with all her neighbours to promote security and opportunity in the region. In all of these efforts, Afghanistan’s next President will have a partner in the United States.

Each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. The United States does not support or oppose any particular Presidential or Provincial Council candidate. Instead, we support the right of the people of Afghanistan to choose their own leaders. That is why we are working with Afghan electoral authorities and the United Nations to help Afghans ensure a credible, secure, and inclusive election process in which all candidates have fair access to media, can freely travel and campaign, and are comfortable with the integrity of the ballots cast on election day.

The United States seeks an enduring partnership with the Afghan people, not with any particular Afghan leader. That partnership will be dedicated to enabling the newly elected President and other officials to deliver governance, security, justice and economic opportunity to all Afghans. That is the future that the Afghan people deserve, and that is the future that we will seek with the successful candidates and the people who elect them.

Poll Shows Drop in Support of Karzai as Afghan Leader

Source: The New York Times By DEXTER FILKINS and ADAM B. ELLICK

KABUL, Afghanistan — Support for President Hamid Karzai has dropped sharply since his election in 2004, with fewer than a third of Afghans supporting his re-election, according to the results of a poll released Monday.

The poll, conducted by the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit pro-democracy group affiliated with the Republican Party and financed by the American government, found that only 31 percent of Afghans said they would vote for Mr. Karzai again, far less than in 2004, when he won with 54 percent of the vote. Fewer than half — 43 percent — said that Mr. Karzai’s performance warranted re-election.

Still, he easily outpaced a dozen of the other candidates he will face Aug. 20, including Abdullah, the former foreign minister, who goes by only one name and polled 7 percent, and Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister, who polled less than 3 percent.

A total of 3,200 Afghans were interviewed in person nationwide in May for the poll, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points, said Lisa Gates, a spokeswoman for the institute.

Still, the poll results suggested that Mr. Karzai could fall short of the 50 percent needed to forestall a runoff. In 2004, he was elected in the first round.

Mr. Karzai has presided over Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power after the American-led invasion in late 2001. In his early days, the Taliban were scattered and weak. But they have since regrouped, and in the first week of June mounted more attacks than at any other time since the invasion.

President Karzai has received much of the blame for the deterioration in security, though he is still widely considered the favorite to win in August. In a news conference earlier this year, he said he was not surprised that his own popularity had declined.

“Well, I have been in government for seven years,” Mr. Karzai said. “It’s natural that I would not be as popular now as I was seven years ago.”

The poll found a number of other striking changes from 2004. Five years ago, nearly 8 in 10 Afghans believed the country was moving in the right direction. Now, only 3 in 10 do.

A majority of Afghans — 52 percent — said their country was less stable than it was a year ago. Indeed, only 21 percent of Afghans said the political and security situation in their region was “peaceful and stable.”

On Monday, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal took command of American and NATO forces in a ceremony in Kabul, saying he would focus on keeping the Afghan people safe. The Obama administration chose him to replace Gen. David D. McKiernan, saying it wanted to being “fresh eyes” to the country.

General McChrystal brings extensive experience in Special Operations, which play a large role in the fighting here. American forces have been criticized by Afghan leaders for airstrikes that have killed many civilians.

“The measure of effectiveness,” General McChrystal said, will not be the number of enemies killed, but “the number of Afghans shielded from violence.”

General McChrystal’s forces are growing by 21,000 troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama. They will bring the total number of American troops here to 68,000. There are about 33,000 other foreign troops here.

Afghanistan election campaign opens amid security concerns, disorganization
Posters are put up -- and ripped down -- but otherwise the opening of the two-month campaign period is subdued. Most candidates spend the day at home

Source: Los Angeles Times - By: Laura King
Kabul, Afghanistan — The campaign for Afghanistan's first national elections in five years got off to a subdued start today, shadowed by security fears and marked by the chronic disorganization that characterizes most large-scale endeavors here.

None of the three main presidential candidates made a public appearance on the first official day of the two-month campaign, and out in Afghanistan's vast hinterlands, many candidates for provincial and national assemblies stayed home, saying traditional campaign activities like rallies would be far too dangerous.

In Kabul, the capital, campaign workers were out before dawn, plastering walls and utility poles and the city's few trees with campaign posters. By midday, many of the posters had been torn down or defaced and, in some cases, papered over with a rival's image.

The ballot for the Aug. 20 vote is laden with 41 presidential candidates, most of whom are considered to have no chance of victory. The only qualifications for running for president are holding Afghan citizenship and being at least 40 years old.

Last week, when the final list of candidates was compiled, the head of the election commission told reporters he was "ashamed" that lawmakers had failed to set basic requirements for seeking the country's highest office, such as the ability to read and write. Some candidates, he said, were illiterate.

Providing a secure environment for the vote will be an enormous challenge for NATO and U.S. forces in a country where the burgeoning insurgency has rendered large swaths of territory unsafe for travel, particularly in Afghanistan's south.

In Helmand, the country's largest opium-producing region and the scene of heavy fighting between coalition troops and the Taliban, officials said this week that five of the province's 13 districts were outside the government's control.

Western commanders have described election security as a key undertaking, and President Obama's decision to deploy 21,000 extra U.S. troops here over the summer was driven in part by the desire to safeguard the vote.

President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since 2001, is the frontrunner, but his popularity has slid sharply over the past two years, and polls suggest he might have trouble garnering the 50% of votes needed to win. In that case, a runoff would be held in the fall.

Karzai's campaign manager, Haji Din Mohammed, dismissed a poll released Monday by the International Republican Institute indicating the president's voter support had fallen to 31%. Other surveys have pointed to widespread disenchantment among the populace, citing corruption, pervasive violence and inefficient governance.

"These polls are not neutral," Mohammed said. "No other candidate has his [Karzai's] standing."

That same poll by the IRI, a nonprofit group funded by the U.S. government and affiliated with the Republican Party, put the level of support for Karzai's two main challengers in single digits.

Each is a former Cabinet minister who had a falling-out with the president: Abdullah Abdullah is an ex-foreign minister, and Ashraf Ghani previously served as finance minister.

"Karzai has failed to manage the country -- it needs to be dragged out of crisis," said Abdullah's campaign manager, Abdul Satar Mured.

The Afghan leader rattled many in the international community when he picked a notorious ex-warlord, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, as one of his two running mates. Fahim has been accused of serious human rights abuses, and the United Nations and a number of foreign diplomats had privately entreated Karzai not to put him on the ticket.

Even before the campaign began, the president's opponents accused him of using his incumbency to unfair advantage, pointing to his daily appearances on state television and suggesting he might use official trips around the country to drum up support.

Karzai's senior campaign aides -- some of whom resigned their government jobs only on the morning the campaign officially kicked off -- insisted there would be a strict separation of government and campaign business.

On its opening day, the campaign had a distinctly ad hoc air. Most candidates have yet to open campaign headquarters or recruit staff -- though Ghani, a well-educated technocrat with an international reputation, has launched a website for fundraising.

At a news conference by the Karzai campaign, in a basement room at his headquarters, an aide scurried through the crowded room at the last moment, spraying disinfectant. Another major candidate's campaign manager, queried about his platform, asked: "What is that?"

But the notion of democracy still has the power to inspire. This is only Afghanistan's second democratic election, and for many people, the memory of Taliban rule, which ended with the U.S.-led invasion of 2001, is still fresh.

"I like the idea that I have something to say about something important," said a street vendor named Najibullah. "Even if I am not sure it will change anything."

Campaigning Kicks Off For Afghanistan Presidential Election

Source: AFP
KABUL:- Campaigning for Afghanistan's second-ever presidential elections kicked off Tuesday, with hundreds of posters hoisted in the capital and candidates setting out to win over voters new to democracy.

By contrast, the southern city of Kandahar - in the heartland of a Taliban insurgency that has reached record levels and threatens the Aug. 20 poll - remained bare of posters and election spirit.

"The reason presidential candidates have not opened their campaign offices could be for security reasons, but that will start I think soon," said provincial council member Haji Agha Lalai.

In Kabul, a 30-vehicle convoy decorated with posters of deputy parliamentary speaker Mirwais Yasini held up the traffic with loudspeakers blaring the qualities of the candidate, one of 41 in the running.

Backers of former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah met in the city to hand out posters and banners supporting their candidate, who was expected to host his first rally Thursday.

Another leading candidate, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, met about 1, 000 people at his home in west Kabul, using a 25-minute address to criticize President Hamid Karzai's nearly eight years in office.

With Karzai on a state visit to Russia, his campaign office called in media to outline his bid for a second term.

Posters of the president and his running mates, including high-profile anti- Taliban warlord Mohammed Qasim Fahim, were plastered with those of other candidates across walls, electrical poles, trees and traffic signs.

Karzai won the 2004 election with 55.4%, and is tipped by observers to have a good chance in the August ballot despite his failure to rein in corruption and the Taliban in his nearly eight years on the job.

Critics have already accused the incumbent of having an unfair advantage because of his position, which gives him access to government and international resources, as well as security, as he moves across the fragile country.

Independent Election Commission official Daud Ali Najafi told reporters that the president had agreed to halt any government appointments in case they could benefit his campaign.

"Other restrictions are, for example, that a candidate cannot use any government facilities during their campaign even if it is the president or any one else," Najafi said at a briefing to announce the start of campaigning.

Election organizers have complained that in the field of 41, which includes two women, are several people who shouldn't be on the list because they don't have the qualifications or profile to run for office.

But the vote is seen as a key step in a transition to democracy that is being funded by Afghanistan's international partners, who are also bankrolling the elections, expected to cost around $220 million.

U.N. representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, called for candidates to " campaign with dignity and fairness."

"This is of critical importance to ensure that the elections are credible and that the results are accepted by all," he said.

Afghanistan's military allies are, meanwhile, deploying thousands of soldiers amid fears that surging violence could keep voters from the polls and cast doubt on their credibility.

Two of more than 3,200 candidates for provincial council elections, also due Aug. 20, have been killed in recent weeks, with one of the deaths blamed on the Taliban.

Abdullah vows to set up cordial ties with Muslim world, Pakistan TOP

Source: APP
QUETTA:- As part of his election campaign, presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah said on Monday that he would establish friendly ties with all Muslim countries including Pakistan after winning the forthcoming presidential election in his (conflict-stricken) country. Addressing his first telephonic press conference at Quetta press club from Afghanistan in Pashto language, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said that he was not against any Islamic state, and wanted to set up cordial relations with Islamic Ummah after being elected as president of his (war-torn) country. He said that he himself would play role for improving relations of his country with all Muslim countries including Pakistan. He said that he had made vigorous efforts for bolstering ties with Pakistan when he was foreign minister of his country, citing instance of inking Kabul Agreement which was concluded between both the neighbouring countries. Abdullah Abdullah said that Taliban and Al-Qaeda were threats to security of both Afghanistan and Pakistan in the region. "Strong, stable and peaceful Afghanistan is not only indispensable and inevitable for its neighbouring countries, but also necessary for security and peace of the entire region,� he said. To a question, the former foreign minister said that there were two kinds of Taliban existing in Afghanistan including peaceful religious Taliban who loved their country and opposed terrorism, and those who were waging terrorism and massacring innocent civilians in the country. He alleged that Hamid Karzai-led Afghan government had failed completely to resolve problems of the people and maintain conditions of peace in the country. To another question, he denied Afghanistan’s land was being exploited against any country, and said that its land was neither used against any other state nor would be allowed to be exploited against any country. He appealed to Afghan nationals to cast their rights of franchise in his favour in the forthcoming presidential election in the (war-hit) country. Political observers believed that the press conference of Abdullah Abdullah was aimed to win supporters in the coming elections as hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees were living in Pakistan who would also cast their votes in the forthcoming presidential elections of their war-stricken country.

Statement of Kai Eide, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan

Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG), Kai Eide, has met with Presidential candidates Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah in separate meetings to discuss the election process.

The SRSG presented to them a set of "Essential Guidelines for Conduct during the Election Process". These guidelines have been issued by the SRSG and have been endorsed by the international community. They have also been presented to President Hamid Karzai.

The aim of these guidelines is to ensure a fair and credible election campaign in which there is a level playing field. The aim should be to avoid illegal interference into the election process and the impartiality of government institutions, election officials as well as representatives of the international community. The guidelines are also intended to ensure fairness in media coverage of the campaign.

Both Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani gave their support to the SRSG's initiative and agreed to maintain a close dialogue with the SRSG during the election process.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
Spokespersons Unit
Kabul - Afghanistan
Tel: 0039 0831 24 6121 – 0093 (0) 790 00 6121
E-mail: spokesperson-unama@un.org
Website: www.unama.unmissions.org

UN envoy calls on candidates to campaign with dignity and fairness

Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
"I appeal to candidates to campaign with dignity and fairness. It is the shared responsibility of all candidates to ensure that these elections strengthen Afghanistan's democratic institutions and people's confidence in the democratic process." The top UN envoy in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, made this appeal on the eve of the 16 June start of campaigning for Afghanistan's Presidential and Provincial Council elections.

He stressed that "intimidation, inflammatory language and violence of any sort have no place in this election campaign. All candidates must conduct their campaign in a way which respects the rights of other candidates to campaign freely and without interference. This is of critical importance to ensure that the elections are credible and that the results are accepted by all."

Mr. Eide emphasized the need to respect scrupulously the Presidential decree on non-interference of government institutions and officials and that no such interference can be accepted in favour of any candidate at the Presidential or Provincial Council level. He urged full respect for the impartiality of election officials.

"I look forward to an election campaign where each candidate presents a vision for Afghanistan's future. More than ever, the Afghan people need a debate focused on the key political challenges facing the country and how to take Afghanistan forward. The Afghan people should be able to choose between political alternatives and not only between different individuals. They must be able to see clearly what the candidates stand for and not only who they are. I therefore hope we will now see two months of vigorous and dignified political debate," Eide said.

Mr. Eide acknowledged that "many Afghans are disappointed by inadequate progress in recent years. This is almost inevitable in a country in conflict and with weak institutions. The Afghan people continue to suffer from conflict, hardship and poverty. However, the strength and legitimacy of a future government and provincial authorities depends on the active participation of the people in these elections. The coming years will be decisive for the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. I therefore appeal to all voters to follow the election campaign closely and to cast their votes on Election Day."

Mr. Eide noted that these elections will be administered by Afghan authorities. "The UN and the international community at large will follow the election process closely and give its full support to an election process that is fair and credible," he said.

Crucial to ensure credible Afghan polls, stresses UN envoy

Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
The top United Nations official in Afghanistan has stressed the need to ensure that the elections slated for August are credible and that their results are accepted by all, noting that the candidates can contribute to this by campaigning with “dignity and fairness.”

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan, made the appeal today on the eve of the start of campaigning for the presidential and provincial council elections.

“It is the shared responsibility of all candidates to ensure that these elections strengthen Afghanistan’s democratic institutions and people’s confidence in the democratic process,” he said in a statement issued in Kabul.

He also stressed that “intimidation, inflammatory language and violence of any sort have no place in this election campaign.”

The country’s Independent Electoral Commission has set 20 August as the date for the presidential elections.

The top UN envoy also encouraged all Afghans to take part in the polls, stating that “the strength and legitimacy of a future government and provincial authorities depends on the active participation of the people in these elections.

I therefore appeal to all voters to follow the election campaign closely and to cast their votes on Election Day,” he stated.

Noting that the elections will be administered by Afghan authorities, Mr. Eide said the UN and the international community at large will follow the election process closely and give its full support to an election process that is fair and credible.

Mr. Eide, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), met yesterday in separate meetings with presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to discuss the election process.

He presented them with a set of “Essential Guidelines for Conduct during the Election Process,” which have been issued by the Special Representative and endorsed by the international community. They have also been presented to President Hamid Karzai.

The guidelines aim “to ensure a fair and credible election campaign in which there is a level playing field.

“The aim should be to avoid illegal interference into the election process and the impartiality of government institutions, election officials as well as representatives of the international community. The guidelines are also intended to ensure fairness in the media coverage of the campaign,” according to a statement issued by UNAMA.

Mohaqeq: Karzai to Share Power, if Re-elected

Source: Quqnoos - By: Faisal Karimi
An Afghan political figure claims that Hamid Karzai promised to share power if his support ensures Karzai’s victory

Leader of Wahdat-e Islami party, Mohammad Mohaqeq, Friday told a gathering in Kabul that President Karzai has vowed to give 5 ministerial posts to Wahdat party if re-elected.

A week earlier, Wahdat-e Milli Party led by Mohaqeq and Junbish-e Milli Party led by Gen Dustum vowed to support incumbent Karzai in the upcoming Afghan elections.

Wahdat Party mostly supported by Hazara minority urged President to boost development in Hazara dwelling areas in the country.

Mohaqeq advised his followers to campaign and vote for Karzai who has signed a remarkable power share deal with him.

Dustom and Mohaqeq were both Karzai’s rivals in the 2004 elections and after Karzai’s victory. They both were among those who criticised the transparency of the polls.

Mohaqeq said he discussed the deal, what he calls “rights of Hazaras” with many candidates but finally came to an agreement with Karzai.

He told the gathering that upgrading Jaghori and Behsood – two Hazara districts – to provinces are included in the deal.

Forty vie to unseat Afghanistan's Karzai

Source: Reuters - By: Sayed Salahuddin and Peter Graff Sayed Salahuddin And Peter Graff
KABUL, Afghanistan:– Afghanistan's election commission published Saturday the final list for the August 20 presidential election, launching a campaign in which 40 challengers will face an uphill climb to topple incumbent Hamid Karzai.

Karzai has ruled since the ouster of the strict Islamist Taliban in 2001, and won the country's first election in 2004.

He has consolidated his position in recent weeks against a divided opposition, despite worsening insurgent violence and public dismay with a corrupt and weak government, and even his opponents now acknowledge he will be difficult to beat.

His main challengers include two former members of his cabinet, ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

Other candidates include two women, several former government ministers and officials, and even a former Taliban commander now sitting in the parliament. Three little-known candidates were disqualified earlier this week.

The official campaign begins Monday and runs for two months. The United Nations is helping organize the poll and Western donors, many with troops fighting the Taliban, are paying the $223 million bill, election commission chief Azizullah Ludin told reporters while announcing the final list of the candidates.

The announcement of the official list ends a registration period that saw Karzai win endorsements from ethnic and regional leaders, while his opponents failed to unite.

"If I was a betting man I would reckon he (Karzai) was going to win on the first round," a senior Western diplomat told reporters this week. "The reason why so many people are coming aboard with him is because they are jumping aboard the bandwagon of the person they think is going to win."


This marks a change of fortune for the president, who was seen as weak both at home and abroad just a few months ago.

"He was quite low in the winter, and I think he was personally quite down," the Western diplomat said of Karzai. But he said opponents had so far failed to build a coalition that would draw appeal across the country's ethnic divides.

It is still important for the international community to ensure that the election is perceived as fair. Karzai's opponents are "winding themselves up to cry foul," the diplomat said.

The Taliban, leading the insurgency against some 90,000 Western troops, have called the elections a sham and have vowed to unleash a campaign of violence throughout the next few months.

The commander of U.S. forces in central Asia and the Middle East, General David Petraeus, said this week that insurgent attacks have become more frequent than at any time since the Taliban fell after a U.S.-led invasion.

Washington, which calls Afghanistan its top foreign policy priority, and other allies are sending thousands of extra troops in part to help secure the poll. The U.S. force is more than doubling from 32,000 at the end of 2008 to an anticipated 68,000 by the end of this year.

Other Western troops number about 30,000.

Karzai has come under some criticism for nominating a former guerrilla chief as one of his two deputies. Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who would be first vice president, is accused by rights groups and Western diplomats of rights abuses during 30 years of war.

Western governments are still frustrated by the weakness of Afghan institutions but recognize that it is not all Karzai's fault, the diplomat said.

"Even (former U.S. President Franklin) Roosevelt would have struggled to make the system that Karzai inherited work for him, because it just wasn't there," the diplomat said.

(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Peter Graff; Editing by Paul Tait)

41 candidates on ballot for Afghanistan president

Source: The Associated Press - By: RAHIM FAIEZ
KABUL: Afghanistan's electoral commission said Saturday that President Hamid Karzai and 40 other candidates will appear on the ballot for president this August, but the head of the commission said he felt "ashamed" that so many unqualified candidates made the final cut.

Karzai is considered the clear front-runner to win Afghanistan's second presidential election since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime. His strongest challengers in the Aug. 20 vote include former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Two women are also among the 41 candidates.

In announcing the final list of candidates, Azizullah Lodin, the head of Afghanistan's election commission, said he believed that many of the candidates were not qualified but said he had no power to remove them from the ballot.

"I personally feel ashamed that when I ask someone are you literate, and he says no. I ask if he has a professional background, and he says no. I ask if he was a mullah in a mosque, and he says no. And now he comes and registers himself and he wants to be president of Afghanistan. This is really shameful," Lodin told reporters.

During the country's first post-Taliban presidential election in 2004, 18 candidates ran for president. Karzai won in the first round with 55 percent, while the second placed finisher, Yunus Qanooni, the current speaker of the lower house of parliament, won 16 percent. Qanooni is not running this year.

A separate commission examined the original list of 44 candidates and removed two, though Lodin did not say why. A third candidate dropped out.

Lodin said the commission still faced potential hurdles with the remaining candidates. Afghanistan's constitution says presidential candidates must only hold citizenship in Afghanistan and not be a dual citizen. But Lodin said the commission has no mechanism to properly screen candidates for that qualification.

U.S. and other NATO forces are pouring into the country to help secure remote election sites and ensure a smooth voting process.

In the latest violence, a suicide car bomber hit a fleet of fuel tankers intended for a NATO base in southern Afghanistan, killing eight Afghans and wounding 21, officials said Saturday.

The attack in Helmand province late Friday burned six fuel tankers parked outside the town of Gereshk, said Dawood Ahmadi, the spokesman for the governor of Helmand. The trucks had been headed to a large NATO base that primarily houses U.S. and British troops.

The attack killed eight Afghan drivers or their assistants, said Abdel Ahad Khan, the Gereshk district chief. Twenty-one people were wounded, he said.

Attacks late last year against U.S. and NATO supply trucks raised concerns that militants were squeezing military supply routes. At the time, U.S. and NATO commanders said they were exploring other ways to bring supplies into the country, including through Russia and the former Soviet satellites that border Afghanistan to the north.

But a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force said Saturday that there have been few or no attacks on supply trucks in recent months. The spokesman said NATO bases have a lot of spare supplies in the event of attacks.

He said he could not be identified by name because he is not the lead spokesman.

Militant attacks have risen steadily the last three years and have reached a new high. U.S. Gen. David Petraeus said Afghanistan saw 400 insurgent attacks during the first week of June, including ambushes, small-arms attacks, assaults on Afghan infrastructure and government offices, and roadside bomb and mine explosions.

In comparison, attacks in January 2004 were less than 50 per week.

Meanwhile, a soldier with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Friday, ISAF said Saturday. No other details, including the soldier's nationality, were released.

Associated Press reporter Noor Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar.

Dark horse seeks Afghan presidency
Source: The Washington Times - By: Jason Motlagh
KABUL, Afghanistan | Ashraf Ghani says he is running for Afghan president with plenty of ideas, if not campaign contributions.

Mr. Ghani, who is the leading challenger to President Hamid Karzai, said Afghanistan needs "vision and management" as well as security. And the former finance minister and World Bank official said he can provide it.

Afghan politicians "keep asking for more money without being able to spend it properly," he told The Washington Times in a recent interview in his Kabul home.

U.S. aid to the Afghan government -- more than $60 billion since 2001 -- can be made more effective by focusing on infrastructure and job creation, in turn reducing Afghanistan's dependency on foreign money over time, he said.

He cited figures showing that the government loses 70 percent of its revenue each year through waste, mismanagement and corruption.

The presidential campaign coincides with a buildup of U.S. troops ordered by President Obama in an attempt to change the course of the war.

About 7,000 troops began deploying this week to southern Afghanistan, mainly to Helmand province, which is largely controlled by the Taliban and is the world's largest opium-growing region.

Mr. Ghani said he wants to accompany a military turnaround with an economic revival that is driven by agricultural exports, mining and hydropower.

The focus on hydropower could make Afghanistan a regional provider of electricity instead of a net importer. This would require improved connectivity to resource-hungry neighbors such as China.

In November, a Chinese company won a contract to mine copper by investing nearly $3 billion in infrastructure, including an electricity plan and railroad spur to Tajikistan that would create thousands of jobs.

Asked about the insurgent threat to backcountry projects, Mr. Ghani said "spatial clusters" of growth, initially focused in eight stable northern provinces, would create a "multiplier effect."

With time, he said, these clusters will overlap and allow investors to push deeper into at-risk areas in the South and East.

As an example of what is possible, Mr. Ghani cited two telecommunications companies that were at first hesitant to pay for $5 million licenses.

They are now worth more than $600 million with more than 1 million subscribers each, Mr. Ghani said. Three other firms have joined the market, which has attracted $1 billion in private investments.

Today, Afghanistan ranks among the world's most corrupt and least developed countries, beset by economic woes and rampant drug trafficking that give traction to the Taliban-led insurgency.

Despite Mr. Ghani's best efforts, Mr. Karzai is expected to win the Aug. 18 vote, partly because of a flurry of agreements with potential opponents in the past month.

Some Western commentators are convinced that Mr. Karzai has already won.

Mr. Ghani rejected the forecast as one of "analysts who are bound in embassies."

"No one can deny what the problems are anymore," he said. "I'm challenging [Mr. Karzai] with nothing in the way of material resources, but with ideas and volunteers."

He has not ruled out a possible partnership with the only other high-profile challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who has also fallen out with the president.

As finance minister from 2002 to 2004, Mr. Ghani won praise for reforms and large-scale development projects. He created a new currency under a centralized revenue system and overhauled the budget and customs systems, making the government more accountable to the Afghan people and international donors. At one stretch, he even worked for free.

After his departure, he served as chancellor of Kabul University.

In 2006, he was a candidate to become secretary-general of the United Nations. A steady presence at international conferences, he churns out papers and op-ed contributions on nation-building and he co-authored a recent book, "Fixing Failed States."

On security strategy, Mr. Ghani praised the Obama administration for what he called a "unified approach" to counterinsurgency that recognizes the need to focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan and reaches out to civilians.

However, he stressed that air strikes and other heavy-handed tactics that kill civilians are self-defeating.

"Counterinsurgency can accommodate counterterror, but not the other way around," he said, noting that "months of careful counterinsurgency can be undone in day by one single" mistake.

If elected, Mr. Ghani said he would talk to Taliban representatives.

Most rank-and-file militants can be won over with a job, he said, comparing them to his "16-year-old students." Hard-core elements that continue to target the state, meanwhile, "must be confronted from a position of strength."

While no one questions his intellectual gifts, critics wonder how much clout Mr. Ghani would command in dealing with the Taliban and influential warlords. There are also doubts over the extent of his rural support base. Until recently, he was a U.S. citizen who invariably donned a suit and tie.

Seated in his Kabul living room in traditional attire, he appeared the native son, flanked by a glass case of bolt-action rifles. A dog roamed among young saplings outside.

Mr. Ghani said Afghans are familiar with his initiatives such as a National Solidarity Program, which dispensed more than $500 million in World Bank aid to 23,000 villages.

While illiteracy may be high, so is political consciousness in a country that has experienced little respite from war in the past three decades.

"The average Afghan listens to four radio stations a day. We are neither ignorant nor stupid," he said.

Here are list of the Candidates and their VPs.


VP Changes In RED Removed From Final list
Presidential Candidate 1st V/P Candidate 2nd V/P Candidate Candidate's Party
Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai M. Ayub Rafeqi Dr. M.Ali Nabizadah Independent
Hamed Karzai M. Qasim Fahim M. Kareem Khalili Independent
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah Humayun Shah Asefi Cheragh Ali Cheragh Independent
Dr. Ramazan Bashardost M. Mosa Barekzai Afefa Marouf Independent
Mirwais Yasini Amanullah Payman Dr. Abdul Qayum Sajadi Independent
Hedayat Amin Arsala M. Ismail Qasemyar Shenki Zaheen Karrokhel
Dost mohammad Omari
Nassrullah Baryalai Arsalayee Mawlawi Abdul Baqi Khohistani Sayed M. Alam Amini Independent
Shahnawaz Tanai Nesar Ahmad Salemi M. Jan Pamer Afghanistan Peace Movement Party
Said Jalal Karim Faiz Mohammad Daqeeq Ghulam Abbas Waizzadah Behsoodi Independent
Abdul Jabar Sabet Abdul Jabar Raufi
Mohammad Ali Mohammadi
Mohammad Ali Mohammadi
Abdul Jabar Raufi
Akbar Bai, 60 Sufi Habib Khan from Paktia Muhammad Anwar Hussiani from Maidan Wardak Independent
Abdul Salam Rakety Moammad Ajmal (Habib Safi) Mohammad Sadiq Independent
Shahla Atta Ghulam Farooq Sediqi Gull Mohammad Urozgani Independent
Dr. Habib Mangal Dr. Mohammad Daud Rawish Nafas Jaheed All-Embracing Movement for Democracy and Progress of Afghanistan (AMDPA)
Dr. Dauod Merakai Mohammad Kabir Gulistam Mearj Independent
Abdul Hasib Aryan Abdul Fata Ghanikhel Mirza Mohammad Meya Independent
Shah Mahmod Popal Mohammad Halim Raheeq Shah Jan National Islamic Peace Party
Mahbobullah Koshani M. Zaman Athrafi M Sharif Tarakhel Azadagan Afghanistan Party
Besmillah Shir Mohammad Hasan Tawhidi Dr. Skandar Husaini Independent
Mohammad Sarwar Ahmadzai Mohammad Karim Jalili Sayed Rasool Independent
Motasembellah Mazhabi Mohammad Naseem Roza Baghi Iftekhar Ahmad Yousifzai Independent
Abdul Ghafor Zohori Mohammad Tahir Aslami Abdul Rashid Iman Independent
Dr. Forozan Fana Naseemullah Darman Ghulam Jelani Stari Independent
Moyenuddin Olfaty Khan Mohammad Nadia Independent
Bashir Ahmad Bizhan Abdul Ghafar Irfani Fatema Naimi Independent
Mohammad Hashim Tawfiqy Shahwali Roohani Gulam Ali Amin Independent
Hasan Ali Sultany Misri Khan Momand Abdul Raqeeb Independent
Zabihullah Ghazi Noristani

Sayed Yousf Shajan Pacha
Alhaj M. Zubair

Aqa Sayed Independent
Dr. Gholam Faroq Najrabi Genral Abdul Wakil Khuaja Ghulam Jelani Sedeqi Independence Party of Afghanistan
Baz Mohamad Kofi Zarmeena Sahar Said Mohammad Baqir Ameri Independent
Mawlawi Mohammad Sayed Hashimi Eng. Mohammad Masoom (Eng. Mahmoo) Genral Mohammd Naim Ansari Hezb-e-Harakati-e-Iqealab-e-Islami Afghanistan
Dr. Mohamamd Nasir Anis Surya Daqeeq

Habibullah Noori
Dr. Sayed Aminullah

Abdul MAjid Samim Obiadullah Sayed Shagha Independent
Abdul Qader Imami Ghori Mohammad Yasin Kateb Sultanali Murtaza Nekzad Independent
Mohammad Yasin Safi Mohammad Isreal Mohammad Azim Tahiri Independent
Said Jafar Opayni Abdul Qadar Bismellah Durookhshani Independent
Haji Rahim Jan Sherzad Mohammad Asar Malik Shakerullah Independent
Ziaullhaq Hafzi Sayed Mohammad Baqir Musbahzadah Said Ahmad Humdard Independent
Gul Ahmad Yama Ahmad Shah Asar Suliaman Ali Independent
Sangeen Mohammad Rahmani Rajabgull Ziauddin Independent
Mohammad Hakim Torssan Nasrullah Zeirmal Dr. Mohammad Yasin Olawi Independent
Mola Gholam Mohammad Regi Eng. Mohammad Wali Akseer Baz Mohammad Yaftali Independent
MMohammad Akbar Orya Genral Abdul Zahir Merzakhel Zalmi Faqiri Independent
Abdul Latif Pedram Noor Ahmad Barzeen Khatebi Mohamad Ayub Qasemi National Congress Party of Afghanistan
INDEPENDENT ELECTION COMMISSION OF AFGHANISTAN Final List of Presidential Candidates Final List of Provincial Council Candidates


Intersting Readings
Probe launched over $500M spent on Afghanistan planes now sitting idle
Controversy Over Afghan-US Deal
A Proposal for Peace in Afghanistan
What The 'Zero Option' Would Look Like In Afghanistan
Obama’s Afghanistan Specialists Stumped on Basic Facts
Why the U.S. Paid Karzai's Top Aid
نو په مړو او معدومو به شميريږو
که دا يو چې په همدې شانې اوسيږو
ګورئ دا سيلاب چې راغی لاهو کيږو
راځئ هلئ چې لاسونه سره ورکړو

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