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All eyes on Afghan prez polls

All eyes on Afghan prez polls
Even though the former Ahmad Shah Massoud protégé, Abdullah Abdullah, of mixed Tajik and Pushtun descent looms large over the presidential ballot in Afghanistan, the UPA II government’s three Pushtun choices are Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Zalmai Rassoul and Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf.

A ministry of external affairs source reeled off the names in a way that seemed any of the last three, especially Ahmadzai and Rassoul, will find favour with New Delhi if elected in the % April polls.
Manmohan Singh government that can correctly claim credit for a diplomatic success in terms of its Afghanistan policy, of course, will go to the hustings around the same time. Their legacy will be the solid bedrock of goodwill amongst the people of the country and even the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Abdullah Abdullah, formerly of the Northern Alliance that resisted the Taliban through the 1990s from extending its control over the northern provinces of the country, had challenged President Hamid Karzai in 2009 and had got almost 30 per cent of the votes polled. Still he refused to participate in the election run-off claiming that he did not trust the Karzai government to hold a free and fair second round polling.

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister who had done a stint with the World Bank, is the candidate the UPA leadership would like to see elected. A veteran Afghanistan watcher recently said that with him at the helm the Afghan economy, it could soon grow larger than the illicit economy based on cultivation and development of opiates.

He is also the choice of the US-led Western block. Predictably, he is shown to be the most preferred candidate in a recent opinion poll held last week. An organisation called ATR Consulting is the agency that has conducted the poll. The numbers show that he is leading the pack with of 26.9 percent the poll participants voted. He has thus opened up a lead over the second most popular candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, who got 24.7 per cent of popular support in the opinion poll.

Former Afghan foreign minister Zalmai Rasoul received 7.5 per cent votes from the survey participants and secured the third position among the most favourite presidential candidates. The very urbane Zalmai Rassoul, the former foreign minister is also in the fray hoping to take over the mantle from Karzai.

Like Abdullah Abdullah, he is also a medical doctor who was trained by the French. As a national security adviser to Karzai from 2002, he was considered pro-India even by the southern wing of South Block, consisting of the defence ministry, particularly the armed forces. He resigned as the foreign minister in October, 2013, to contest in the presidential polls.

The real wild card in this list is Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf. A fully blooded Pushtun fighter, Sayyaf. He fought the ‘communist’ government foisted by then Soviet Union in the 1980s; reputedly played a key role in managing to find a safe haven for Osama Bin Laden when he was on the run after the Sudanese regime had to expel him under international pressure. He was also backed by Arab regimes like the Saudis.

He still remained in the democratic fray successfully transforming his mujahideen gang into a political party called the Islamic Dawah Organisation of Afghanistan. The independent poll organiser of the country, Afghan Election Commission, has pared down a 37-contestant list to 11. And this is the slate that is now on campaign mode, stitching up tribal alliances and generally electioneering.

The author is a senior journalist
Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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