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Afghan Presidential Field Taking Shape

AFGHANISTAN -- An Afghan man casts his vote during the Parliamentary elections in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 27 October 2018.
AFGHANISTAN -- An Afghan man casts his vote during the Parliamentary elections in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 27 October 2018.

KABUL, Potential contenders for Afghanistan’s presidency are working overtime to win support as the country’s presidential field takes shape.

With the April 20 presidential vote still months away, some candidates have announced their intention to run for the presidency while others are jockeying hard to form the most formidable coalition or come up with a strong ticket.

Afghanistan’s incumbent President Ashraf Ghani is widely expected to seek a second term. But it is not clear whether he will be able to gather a formidable and diverse coalition similar to the one he put together in 2014.

Many of his key former confidants have embarked on a new political course.

FILE: Hanif Atmar
FILE: Hanif Atmar

Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Ghani’s former powerful national security adviser, is one of the first to announce his decision to run for the presidency as Kabul grapples with rising Taliban violence and a U.S. push for swift peace negotiations between the insurgents and the Afghan government.

“We are in negotiations with the various [political] currents in the country and, God willing, we will join the electoral contest with a truly national and trustworthy team,” his spokesman, Tawab Ghorzang, told Radio Free Afghanistan on November 30. “Our aim is to make sure that all political movements and our diverse population can feel that they are represented on the presidential ticket.”

In Afghanistan’s presidential republic, the president heads the executive branch of the government and is elected for a five-year term. Two vice presidents are part of the presidential ticket and follow the president in the line of succession.

To attract support from Afghanistan’s diverse population, most presidential contenders have put together multiethnic tickets since the first presidential election in 2004. Atmar’s confidants hope that ethnic Tajik leader Younus Qanuni and Hazara leader and current second deputy of Afghan chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq will share his ticket.

Radio Free Afghanistan couldn’t reach Qanuni or Mohaqiq for immediate comment. But Ismail Khan, a former minister and senior leader of Qanuni’s Jamiat-e Islami, says the two leaders have not yet decided to join Atmar.

Khan told Radio Free Afghanistan that Jamiat-e Islami and Mohaqiq’s Hizbi Wahdat-e Islami are part of the Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan, which also includes Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Junbish-e Milli Islami.

FILE: Ismail Khan
FILE: Ismail Khan

“If Jamiat-e Islami fails to reach an agreement to support a single candidate with other parties of the Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan and fails to unite with another presidential contender, then our party will announce its own candidate,” he said. “So far, we are of the view that we should support a joint candidate from within the Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan. As far as I know, Qanuni and Mohaqiq have not decided on a course separate from the coalition.”

It is still not clear whether Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, a key leader of Jamiat-e Islami, will be running.

Omid Maisam, a spokesman for Abdullah, says the chief executive is still engaged in wide-ranging consultations before deciding on his future political direction.

Other major political players are also still undecided. The reconciliation of Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hikmatyar this year might change the dynamics of the Afghan presidential election. As one of the country’s largest political organizations, Hizb-e Islami has yet to announce its decision.

Hashmatullah Arshad, a spokesman for Hizb-e Islami, says they will announce their course soon. “We are engaged in some serious consultations and hope to announce our candidate or declare our support for one within the next week,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan on November 30.

Mohammad Umer Daudzai
Mohammad Umer Daudzai

Many former officials, however, have been touting their credentials for a long time. Mohammad Omar Daudzai, a former minister and chief of staff for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is expected to contest the 2019 presidential polls.

His spokesman, Sayed Maisam Ehsani, says they are engaged in consultations with various political parties and personalities to put together a “strong” election for a Daudzai ticket.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Nusrat Parsa and Najia Safi from Kabul, Afghanistan.