KABOL, 8 Sept. (IPS) Candidates to the next month's presidential election in Afghanistan started campaigning on Tuesday 7 September, with the present Prime Minister-President Hamid Karzai, the favourite of the Americans, given by most analysts as the victor.
Both the presidential and parliamentary polls were due to be held last June, but were delayed due to security and logistical concerns and as a result, the legislative race was delayed until early next year.
Present Prime Minister-President Hamid Karzai, the favourite of the Americans and Europeans, is given by most analysts as the victor.
"Karzai has started his electoral campaign today", Javad Ludin told reporters in Kabol. He declined to answer questions about Karzai's campaign platform saying it would be handled at a later press conference.
The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), which includes representatives of the United Nations and Afghanistan, said the campaigning for this still war-ravaged, ethnically divided and mountainous nation’s first elections would end on 7 October.
Eighteen candidates, including one woman, are running in the elections, scheduled for 9 October.
The vote count will take two to three weeks and if no runner secures 50 per cent of the votes, the election could drag on through the Muslim month of Ramadan and into November.
The group of candidates is varied, representing different political points of view, ethnicities and genders.
Nasrullah Stanakzai, a professor of political science at Kabul University, said no challenger had the courage or the means to tour the lawless provinces and build up a national profile to rival that of Karzai.
"There are a lot of candidates and there will be a lot of confusion,'' said Stanakzai. his is a big opportunity for Karzai, and in the end he will win'', he added
Fundamentalist fighters loyal to the ousted hard line Islamist Taleban rulers have vowed to disrupt the polls and have been waging a bombing and guerrilla campaign, killing hundreds of people including 12 election workers since the beginning of the year.
Despite the bloodshed, about 10.5 million people have registered to vote .32
They, but also some local commanders, have subjected voters to harassment and abuse, a report by the United Nations and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission observed, adding that some had their voter registration cards forcibly confiscated "by commanders, state authorities and private individuals," while others were abused for not obtaining their cards, the report found.
The report also warned that the elections would be affected by insecurity, lack of information and the control of regional warlords and militias.
U.N. officials and Afghan human rights activists say that voter intimidation and insecurity are on the rise in Afghanistan, raising questions whether the landmark presidential elections set for October 9 will be free and fair.
A joint study conducted by the United Nations and Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission says voter intimidation and insecurity plus a lack of information about democracy are likely to undermine the upcoming presidential elections.
Presenting details of the report at a news conference Sunday in Kabul, the U.N. deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Filippo Grandi, said these shortcomings must be addressed before elections.
Islamist fundamentalist fighters have vowed to disrupt the polls.
"There continues to be intimidation, especially in the south and southeast and east, linked to the offensive of those who want to destabilize the process by creating a climate of insecurity and also by intimidating voters", he said.
However, despite the bloodshed, about 10.5 million people have registered to vote in the central Asian state's first-ever presidential elections -- more than the 9.8 eligible voters earlier forecast by the United Nations.
In many cases men drawn from the forces of local warlords who have intimidated voters will provide security, warned Vikram Parekh, analyst with the International Crisis Group.
Disarming regional factions, however, remains the key to creating a single country under a central government. An estimated 50,000 armed militia members are attached to warlords across the country. By contrast, the fledgling Afghan national army, controlled by the president, has 14,000 troops.
The country's infrastructure has also been reduced to rubble by decades of fighting, cutting off one area of the country from another.
US President George Bush booted out the Taleban after it refused to hand over al Qa’eda leader Osama Ben Laden, suspected of having masterminded the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington D.C..
The candidates and the names of their vice presidential running mates:
The favourite to win, Afghanistan's US-backed President is leading Afghanistan since December 2001 when he was chosen as an interim care taker prime minister in Bonn, Germany, where several Afghan groups and personalities had gathered after the American’s invasion of the country earlier in October.
An ethnic Pashtun leader from Qandahar, the image of the 47-year-old Karzai image at home is clouded by slow reconstruction.
In September 2002, Mr Karzai survived an assassination attempt in the former Taleban stronghold of Qandahar. Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, or grand council of the elders endorsed him as head of state last June.
Vice-presidents: Ahmed Zia Masood (Tajik), Karim Khalili (Hazara)
Tipped as the top candidate of powerful anti-Taleban Northern Alliance commanders, Karzai's former Education Minister is now seen as his chief challenger in the presidential race.
The 47-year-old Tajik has the support of Defence Minister Mohammed Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, forming a powerful troika from the Panjshir Valley bidding for the loyalty of their fellow ethnic Tajiks and commands substantial support in the Panjshir valley, a stronghold of resistance against the Taleban north of Kabul.
Vice-presidents: Taj Mohammed Wardak (Pashtun), Sayid Husain Aalimi Balkhi (Hazara)
ABDUL RASHID DOSTOM
A whisky-drinking Uzbek warlord who fought for the Russians before changing sides and joining the mujahedin during the 1980s and 1990s, Dostom, 50, changed sides frequently. He now commands a private militia near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. This archetypal Afghan warlord is widely distrusted, particularly by Pashtuns.
Vice-presidents: Safiqa Habibi (female), Wazir Mohammed.
A leader of the Hazara ethnic minority, Mohaqeq, 49, is a warlord who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s and now commands wide support in northern and central Afghanistan. He was made vice president and minister of planning in Karzai's first interim government but was sacked as vice president in 2002 and as minister in March this year, because, according to Mohaqeq, of his candidacy to the elections.
Vice presidents: Nasir Ahmad Insaf, Abdul Faiaz Mhiraain.
ABDUL LATIF PEDRAM
The French-speaking 41-year-old poet and journalist is an ethnic Tajik. He studied literature and philosophy and in the early 1990s he founded a publication, which denounced corruption and Islamic fundamentalists. He fled the Taleban regime in 1997 and took refuge in France, returning only this year to run for president with the express purpose of putting Karzai out of office.
Pedram attacks Karzai's government for doing too little for the three million refugees who have returned since 2001. Like some other candidates, he also argues that the presidential election should be delayed because of insecurity and to arrange for the whole Afghan diaspora to vote.
Vice presidents: Haji Ahmad Nirow, Mohammed Qasem Ma’somi.
The only woman running for president, the 41-year-old Tajik doctor and mother of three rose to prominence at the constitutional Loya Jirga in 2002, when she came second to Hamid Karzai in the vote to elect a transitional leader.
About 50 women, almost all completely veiled, clapped wildly and prayed for their "sister'' under a tree in the yard as she attacked the warlords who brought them suffering.
Vice-presidents: Mir Habib Sahily, Sayid Mohammed Aaliam Amini.
AHMAD SHAH AHMADZAI
Ahmadzai, 61, an ethnic Pashtun, was a radical anti-communist leader who once headed the rebel government-in-exile over the border in Pakistan's Peshawar during the 1980's Soviet occupation. He fled Afghanistan when the Taleban came to power and took refuge in Turkey and Britain, returning only after the Taleban's defeat in late 2001.
Ahmadzai was a leader of the radical Ittihad-e Islami party, which had links to the Arab volunteers who joined Afghanistan's anti-Soviet resistance and later Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida. Ahmadzai says those ties are long gone and that the in-fighting that killed thousands after the Soviets withdrew was a "big mistake."
Vice presidents: Aminullah Shafajoo, Abdul Manna Urzgani.
SAYED ISHAQ GILANI
Gilani, 49, is an ethnic Pashtun and Sufi Muslim intellectual from a respected Afghan family, which claims descent from the Prophet Mohammad. He joined the anti-Soviet resistance movement in the 1980s. He is believed to have strong support among the Pashtun majority. A keen hunter and famed gun collector, he is married with two daughters.
Vice-presidents: Mohammed Ismail Qasimyar, Baryali Nasraty.
ABDUL SATAR SIRAT
A professor of Islamic literature, 67-year-old Tajik Sirat ran against Karzai to form an interim government in Bonn after the collapse of the Taleban in 2001 and won 11 votes to Karzai's three, but later swung his support behind Karzai.
Sirat had a varied career as a university lecturer, justice minister and attorney general and ministerial advisor prior to Soviet occupation and was the special envoy of Afghanistan's exiled King. He has written 12 books in Dari, Arabic, English and French on Islamic studies and political science.
Vice-presidents: Qazi Mohammed Amin Waqad, Abdul Qadir Amini.
ABDUL HAFIZ MANSOOR
A 41-year-old journalist and ethnic Tajik from the Panshir valley, Mansoor claims to represent the legacy of assassinated mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Mas’ood. A graduate of Kabul University's journalism faculty, Mansoor runs the weekly paper Payam-e-Mujahid (Mujahedin Message)
He served as acting minister of information and culture and the head of State TV and Radio immediately after the fall of the Taleban and as former head of Afghan state TV, he has links with the Tajik faction in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. But he has emerged as a pole of independent dissent against Karzai, accusing him of trying to install an elected dictatorship.
Vice presidents: Sayid Mohammeed Iqbal Manib, Mohammed Ayub Qasimi.
HOMAYOON SHAH ASEFI
Asefi represents the National Unity Party of monarchists with ties to former King Mohammed Zahir Shah. He served as a minister in Zahir Shah's government before going into exile for over 20 years and working as an advisor to foreign firms on Afghanistan.
Assefy, 64, studied law and political science at Dijon university in France and is fluent Dari, Pashtun, English and French. He is married with three children.
Vice-presidents: Eng Abdullah Rahmatee, Dr. Nelab Mobarez (female).
ABDUL HASIB ARYAN
Ethnic Tajik Arian resigned as a police colonel to run for president after a decades-long career as a policeman. The 43-year-old father of five vows to give equal rights to women and not to campaign along ethnic lines.
Vice-presidents: Dil aqa Shkaib, Sayid Jahya.
SAID ABDUL HADI DABIR
A new face in Afghan politics, 42-year-old Tajik is a father of four and speaks all of Afghanistan's official languages -- Pashtu, Dari and Uzbek. He was imprisoned by the communists and is a member of the anti-Soviet mujahedin Jamiat party.
Vice-presidents: Abdul Rashid, Dad Mohammed.
ABDUL HADI KHALILZAI
The oldest candidate at 72, Khalilzai worked as a teacher and headmaster becoming a lawyer and prosecutor. An ethnic Pashtun, he was born in eastern Kunar province and studied law and religious jurispudence at Kabul University.
Vice-presidents: Khidai Noor Mandokhil, Khdadad Urfani.
MIR MOHAMMAD MAHFOZ NEDA'I
An ethnic Pashtun, the 65-year-old lecturer at Kabul Univerisity studied science before doing a masters in management in Switzerland and a doctorate in geochemistry at Moscow University. He was Karzai's minister of mines and industry to run for office before resigning to contest the polls. He has written several books on politics and economics.
Vice-presidents: Sayid Mohammed Arif Ibrahim Khil, Mohammed Hakrim Karimi.
MOHAMMED IBRAHIM RASHID
A 49-year-old father of two hails from a Pashtun family of landowners who fled to Pakistan when the communists took power. Rashid studied in Germany and later worked with a Afghan-German refugee body in Pakistan. He speaks English, French, German, Pashtun, Dari and Urdu.
Vice-presidents: Sayid Mohammed Hadihadi, Hamid Taheri.
GHULAM FAROOQ NIJRABI
A medical lecturer and pediatric surgeon, the 50-year-old ethnic Tajik trained medical students at the Indira Gandhi hospital in India and returned to lecture in Kabul University in 1983. He speaks Pashtun, English and Arabic.
Vice-presidents: Abdul Fatah, Abdul Hanan.
An ethnic Pashtun, Mangal was born 1954 in Khost in eastern Afghanistan and studied zoology at Kabul University before getting his masters degree in the Soviet Union. He has edited Jihad magazine, published several books and speaks Pashtun, English, Russian and Urdu.
Vice-presidents: Mohammed Yunus Moghil, Dina Gul
When the more than 10 million eligible Afghans go to the polls, some 10,000 NATO soldiers will be guaranteeing their safety. In order to do so, the military alliance will have had to double its contingent from the 5,000 troops currently stationed in the country.
"Rather than focusing on preparing for an election, the international community should be working to rebuild the country, for instance concentrating on the infrastructure and the water resources," he said. An election could be held once the much more crucial reconstruction work is completed -- in a couple of years, Albert Stahel, a professor for strategic military studies at the Technical University in Zurich said.
The Swiss expert also warned of placing too much faith in the elections. "Of course it will not be an election according to western democratic standards," he said. And in order to guarantee that the elections throughout the country take place freely and peacefully, a much larger military presence will be necessary.
However, Stahel acknowledged that the election couldn’t be postponed. “The international community cannot change the timeframe with such short notice. "If the election date is pushed back, the United Nations, NATO and the United States would risk losing face and the population in Afghanistan would not go along with it either", he told the German Radio Television Deutsche Welle. ENDS AQAN ELECTIONS 8904