Is Karzai Following Putin or Yeltsin?

Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai taking his country in the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin or former President Boris Yeltsin?

karzai-putin-yeltsin2014 is considered a life changing year in Afghanistan. The international security forces will withdraw by the end of this year and the Afghan popular election will take place in April. The upcoming elections are very crucial for the future stability and peace in the country. This will be the first time in Afghan history that the presidential palace will be handed over from one president to another peacefully through nationwide elections.

There are 10 presidential candidates running for the April 2014 elections including technocrats, politicians and former senior government officials. It’s been more than a month since presidential campaigns have started and the election results remain ambiguous. The death of the late first vice president Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim has added more to the uncertainty of the elections results.

There is a general belief among the public that, President Hamid Karzai may manipulate the elections. If he does, it could lead to new controversy. President Karzai however has on several occasions insisted he would not interfere in the election process.

Nevertheless, Karzai’s role cannot be neglected in manipulating the election results. In his recent stance, he persuaded his older brother Qayoom Karzai to withdraw from the election race and support Zalmai Rasool, the former foreign minister and the candidate seen as President Karzai’s successor.

The Putin model

Russian President Vladimir Putin has remained in power after completing two constitutionally allowed terms. Putin supported Dmitry Medvedev, one of his loyal friends and hand-picked successor, to win the 2008 presidential elections.

A poll conducted by Yury Levada Analytical Center in 2008 prior to Russian presidential elections revealed that a majority of Russians believed that Putin would continue to control the government. According to that poll, 67 percent of respondents thought Dmitry Medvedev would be a puppet of Putin, while 22 percent said he would act independently. Eventually the same thing happened; Putin ruled Russia while Medvedev was the president.

The Afghan government system is different from Russia and it won’t allow President Karzai to stay in power as prime minister, unless the constitution is changed. However, if Karzai follows Putin, then he can remain in power via proxy.

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The Yeltsin model

The second model for Karzai to follow is that of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Karzai and Yeltsin have many things in common. Both leaders were hand-picked by George W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, respectively. These leaders ruled in difficult times and divided societies. Yeltsin became the first Russian president after the collapse of former Soviet Union and Karzai became president after the collapse of the Taliban. Both hand-picked leaders came to power in the wave of high expectations and ruled for two terms in very corrupt and chaotic political environments.

While leaving office in 2000, Yeltsin did not choose to stay in power for another period. However he had the ability to do so. Instead, he supported nationwide elections and selected a powerful, decisive patriot and workaholic Vladimir Putin, who was able to extricate Russia from economic and social turmoil. And thus Yeltsin left politics for the good will of his nation.

Today, Karzai stands on the same position as Yeltsin stood in 2000 and Putin in 2008.

Since Karzai refused to repeat Fidel Castro’s history by appointing his brother Qayoom Karzai, he still possesses both Putin and Yeltsin’s options. Afghanistan desperately needs Karzai to lead like Yeltsin or stay neutral and let the Afghan people decide their own future. Yet it seems that Karzai is behaving like Putin by supporting his former National Security Adviser and Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasool.

Despite the ambiguity of the elections results and Karzai’s game, it is crucial for Afghans to take part in elections. While Karzai may try to manipulate the election results, Afghan participation could really make a positive change. Afghans must demonstrate their ability to bring the change that they want.

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 Afg-Pak region. Farhan is based in Kabul and can be reached at Read other articles by Ahmad.