Comparing Ghani and Abdullah’s Vision for Afghanistan

Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah’s runoff election puts a high burden of responsibility for Afghans to select their future leader.

Abdullah Ghani

Credit: Reuters / AP

The runoff elections will take place on June 14, between the two leading candidates, former finance minister and World Bank technocrat Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former foreign minister and warlord of the northern alliance Abdullah Abdullah.

Peace is one of the prime demands of the nation that their next president must bring to this country. The two candidates have proposed two different ways of achieving a political settlement with the Taliban.

Abdullah has stressed using military pressure on the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement, while Ghani has not. So who has the right policy to bring peace to this war-torn country?

Dr. Ghani, Taliban and Peace

In his recent campaign rally Ghani requested negotiations with the Taliban. Unlike failed efforts under President Hamid Karzai, there are several reasons why the Taliban may be willing to talk with a future Ghani government.

Unlike Karzai or other Afghan leaders, Dr. Ghani never fought with the Taliban or any other party under any name and political party and has never been a rival of the Taliban. As he usually says, “my right hand is clean from blood and left from corruption.” The Taliban may be keen to talk with such leader.

Second, Ghani’s agenda for the next five years to lead the Afghanistan towards stability, development and good governance will persuade the Taliban for peace talks. One of the key challenges that defamed Karzai’s government and discouraged the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal was the massive corruption in the country. The Taliban repeatedly refused to be a part or live under the corrupt administration of Karzai. Ghani’s commitment and past achievements in combating corruption is another green light for Taliban to negotiate.

A third incentive for Taliban to negotiate a peace deal with Ghani is his commitment to give fair representation to Taliban members in his government. Thus, Taliban will enter into a formal political process and transition, which eventually will provide a greater opportunity for the Taliban to emerge as a legitimate political movement.

Ghani also draws support from religious scholars. In a recent gathering held in Kabul, religious leaders from across the country expressed their strong approval for Ghani and his future agenda. The religious scholars always play a pivotal role in Afghan society if properly used. And without any doubt, Ghani has the ability, capacity and a clear agenda to use these religious scholars in facilitating peace talks.

Finally, Ghani is not from Kandahar, a province that is deemed as the founder of the modern Afghanistan and the birth place of key Taliban leaders including Mullah Omer. Over the past two centuries, the majority of Afghan leaders hailed from Kandahar including President Karzai and Mullah Omer. However, the leadership from Kandahar remained controversial.

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Whenever a politician from Kandahar is leading the country another one from Kandahar is setting in the ambush and leading the opposition. For instance, King Timor Shah, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani who founded modern Afghanistan, faced armed resistance and rebellion from his own brothers.

King Zahir Shah, also from Kandahar, was ousted by his own cousin Sardar Dawoon Khan by ending his 40 years of supremacy, and recently President Karzai is in conflict with Taliban leader Mullah Omer from Kandahar. Hence, a president who is not from Kandahar may end up mediating tribal conflicts and competition between various Kandahari tribes and will pave the way for peace negotiation between Dr. Ghani and the Taliban.

Dr. Abdullah, Taliban and Peace

The other Afghan presidential contender Dr. Abdullah said he will force the Taliban in peace talks by using military power against them.

Abdullah is a half Kandahari whose father was from Kandahar and mother from the Panjshir valley in central Afghanistan. He is considered as a number one enemy by the Taliban. While he not only lacks a proper road map for peace and development of the country, he also was a key commander during the civil war and the resistance against the Taliban. He is also accused by militants of having secret ties with Iran and Russia.

Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of his colleagues are former warlords of the Northern Alliance who were actively involved in the battle against Taliban, and many of his political supporters were corrupt officials of President Karzai. Thus, it will be extremely challenging for the Taliban to convince their followers for negotiating any peace deal with a corrupt government that their old enemy will be leading.

It will be completely unacceptable for the Taliban to surrender their weapons to an old enemy who aims to eliminate them in case he wins the elections. Thus, Abdullah’s government in case selected may plunge the country into another conflict between two old rivals and enemies from Kandahar.

Consequently, the runoff election puts a high burden of responsibility on the Afghan nation to select their next president. It is vital for the nation to avoid any risk, and choose a leader who is not only a highly educated politician, a globally known technocrat with achievements for his own country, but a committed leader with a strong vision for peace, stability and development of the country.

Ahmad Hasib Farhan is a graduate of Kabul University and holds a Master degree from Japan in Public Policy and Economics. Farhan is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political and socio-economic affairs in Afghanistan. Farhan can be reached at haseebnadiri@gmail.com. Read other articles by Ahmad.