What the Presidential candidates have to offer!
There is palpable buzz, chaotic exuberance, lingering fear, and an elixir of hope. There are no measured steps or calculated moves. It’s a no-holds-barred political showdown. As their tryst with destiny inches closer, the Presidential candidates are throwing all the caution to winds and quite vigorously gearing up for the grand political spectacle in April this year. The election campaigning is in full swing these days and the candidates are firing on all cylinders.
In the last few weeks, we have seen some high-voltage, rip-roaring and adrenaline-gushing television debates between the candidates. No, it’s not the race for White House. It’s the marathon for Presidential Palace of Afghanistan. The most difficult political job in the world, perhaps also the most exciting. The manner in which they have spelt out their roadmaps and articulated their thoughts on various pressing issues, with sheer eloquence and sense of purpose, bears eloquent testimony to the fact that this war-weary country has come a long way.
It is incredibly heartwarming to witness the socio-political metamorphosis in this country, and the way local media is emerging as a stimulus of political and social change and custodian of public interest. A decade back, politics in Afghanistan was defined by anarchy and lawlessness. Warlords used to call the shots. Bullets were synonymous with ballots. Free and independent media was a figment of wild imagination.
It is incredibly heartwarming to witness the socio-political metamorphosis in this country, and the way local media is emerging as a stimulus of political and social change and custodian of public interest
Today, Afghanistan is a country that has come out of obscurity and embraced change. The sword of Damocles still hangs overhead but the resilience of people is amazing, almost infectious. When Hassan Nasrullah, the Hezbollah leader from Lebanon, mentioned Afghanistan four times in his powerful speech on Sunday, with reference to the ominous threat of takfirism, he meant that the battle is not over yet. Of course, the battle is on. And, as my Afghan friends often say, with a hint of confidence and optimism, we shall overcome one day.
Right now, the five top contenders for the most challenging assignment in world politics are Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Zalmai Rasool, Qayoom Karzai and Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf. The other candidates are dark horses in the race, so it would be naïve to rule them out completely.
Ahmedzai, who ended up with a meager three percent votes in last elections, has emerged as a frontrunner this time. The former advisor to President Karzai, Ahmedzai is a celebrated anthropologist, having authored many books, including Fixing Failed States: A Frame for Rebuilding a Fractured World. He studied at American University, Beirut and Columbia University, U.S. and taught at University of California and John Hopkins University.
His political vision is both amalgamated and lucid. He seeks to transform the system and devolve financial powers to the provinces, giving them 40 percent of the national budget. In terms of security, he wants to establish rule of law and end discrimination of all manifestations. Unlike Karzai, who has developed cold feet, Ahmedzai is willing to sign the bilateral security agreement with the U.S.
On the question of negotiations with Taliban, he has his priorities spelt out clearly. He wants talks with those Taliban who are not allied to foreign countries, but he does not wish to engage with Al-Qaeda linked groups operating on the soil of Afghanistan. He wants to fight corruption, bring accountability and transparency in governmental and nongovernmental projects. To address the issue of violence against women, he wishes to engage religious scholars and preachers. To develop economy, he wants to attract investments by ensuring foolproof security and incentives to potential investors.
Abdullah Abdullah, who was the main challenger for President Karzai in previous elections before he was forced to beat a hasty retreat following reports of fraud, is another strong contender in the race. An ophthalmologist by training, he jumped the political bandwagon in 1980s when Soviets invaded the country. After the ouster of Taliban in 2001, he was appointed as the Foreign Minister in the interim government led by Karzai, a post he continued to hold in Karzai’s first term as President, before he was axed in 2006.
Ahmedzai wants talks with those Taliban who are not allied to foreign countries, but he does not wish to engage with Al-Qaeda linked groups operating on the soil of Afghanistan
His political vision is of a parliamentary system of governance with devolution of power to provinces. He says he will strengthen the security infrastructure and ensure justice to all. Like other candidates in the fray, he is also willing to end the stalemate over bilateral security pact with the U.S. On the issue of negotiations with Taliban, he says those fighting to decimate the Afghan government will not be spared and those who fight because of political grievances would be invited for peace parleys.
On the question of corruption and nepotism, he wants to introduce meritocracy and rule of law. The trade agreements and development projects, he says, would be monitored by Parliament and Provincial Councils. The institutional prejudice against women would end and they would get adequate representation in political institutions. He wants to generate employment for youth through reforms and promote agriculture to boost the national economy.
Zalmai Rasool, a veteran statesman and former Foreign Minister, is a staunch Karzai loyalist and another heavyweight contender. A doctor by training, he served at many prestigious hospitals in France and Saudi Arabia before entering politics and joining as Chief of Staff under King Zahir Shah. In 2002, after years of war, he returned to Afghanistan amid much fanfare and became Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism in the interim government. In the transitional government, he served as the National Security Advisor. In 2010, he was elevated as the Minister of Foreign Affairs by Karzai, before he stepped down in 2014 to run for Presidential elections, on the insistence of Karzai.
Abdullah Abdullah wants to generate employment for youth through reforms and promote agriculture to boost the national economy
His political vision is all about better management and improvement in the current scheme of things. His key campaign themes are moderation, equality and reconstruction. For security, he seeks to pursue diplomacy with neighboring countries to end cross-border terrorism. Unlike his political mentor, he is ready to sign the bilateral security agreement with the U.S.
On negotiations with Taliban, he wants to engage those insurgents who accept the constitution of Afghanistan, and isolate those killing Afghan civilians and security forces. To fight the malaise of corruption, he wishes to bring transparency by appointing officials on the basis of merit. To empower women, he wants to increase employment opportunities for them and give them 20 percent representation in union cabinet.
Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, known as ‘Ustad Sayyaf’, is a conservative leader who has been at the center of many major political events in Afghanistan over last three decades. An alumnus of Al-Azhar University, he was a close aide of Hekmatyar in 1970s, and was put behind bars in 1974 for his criticism of the then government. In 1979, he launched his party Ittihad Islami Afghanistan to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan. He may be a controversial political figure but he enjoys tremendous public support, and his name was recommended by President Karzai himself.
His political vision is based on people-centric government that seeks to bring rule of law and end the malaise of corruption. He promises to bring visible change in the security environment within four months of his election, and quite interestingly, he is also in favor of the bilateral security agreement with the U.S. On the question of negotiations with Taliban, he wants to engage with ‘good Taliban’ and isolate ‘bad Taliban’ who destroy schools and kill civilians. Among his priorities includes accountability in the political machinery, giving fillip to the culture of meritocracy and eradicating opium cultivation.
Women, he says, would have adequate representation in the government and women’s rights would be respected and safeguarded. Youth will have more job opportunities and focus will be on exploiting the rich mineral resources in the country, modernizing agriculture and improving trade ties with neighboring countries.
Women, says Sayyaf, would have adequate representation in the government and women’s rights would be respected and safeguarded
Qayoom Karzai, the elder brother of President Karzai, is also one of the strong contenders, if not the strongest. He used to run his family business in the U.S. before he returned to Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban. He served as the member of National Assembly of Afghanistan and was also the member of Narcotics Committee in Wolesi Jirga. In October 2008, citing health reasons, he resigned from his seat. He is believed to have played a key role in negotiations with Taliban.
His political vision is focused on economic development and reforms in current Presidential form of government. Unlike his younger brother, he says he will sign the bilateral security agreement with the U.S. without any caveats. On the question of negotiations with Taliban, he also wants to engage only with ‘good’ Taliban who show willingness to join the peace process. The Afghan High Peace Council, which has been negotiating with Taliban on the behalf of government, will be changed into an independent body if he comes to power.
To combat corruption, he wants to cut the red tape, bring transparency and increase the wages of government workers. To empower women, he promises to include them in his grand plans and promote the businesses run by women. For economic development, he wishes to build infrastructure such as railroads, airports and factories. Promoting trade and generating employment is also high on his agenda.
Now, the ball is in the court of voters, majority of them youth. As they say, youth hold the key to 2014 elections and they will decide who should lead the country forward. May the best person win.
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