In this file photo, former finance minister and presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (left) greets a supporter during an election campaign rally in Jalalabad on August 17, 2009. He came fourth, collecting less than 3 percent of votes.
KABUL: Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani yesterday launched his bid to become the next president of Afghanistan, starting the 2014 election race as the first big name to declare his candidacy.
Ghani, also a former World Bank academic, confirmed he would run in the April poll to succeed Hamid Karzai as the Nato-led coalition withdraws and officials seek a peace deal with the Taliban.
“(I) plan to contest in the upcoming presidential elections,” Ghani said on his Twitter account, in a message that was verified by a senior official in his office.
Clearing the way for his shot at power, Ghani resigned as chairman of the Transition Coordination Committee (TCC), which oversees Afghanistan’s return to full sovereignty after the US-led ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Ghani came a fourth in the 2009 presidential election, collecting less than three percent of the votes, but has used his role at the TCC to travel extensively around all parts of Afghanistan and raise his profile. An acerbic character known for his quick temper, Ghani spent time at Columbia, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins universities in the US before joining the World Bank and then serving as finance minister from 2002-2004.
This year, he came second in a “world thinkers” poll by Prospect magazine, which described him as one of the “few academics (who) get the chance to put their ideas into practice”.
Ghani, born in 1949 in Logar province near Kabul, may struggle to secure enough popular support for victory. He is a Pashtun, the largest ethnic group, but is not a tribal leader and has a limited vote base. The election on April 5 is seen as the key test of progress in Afghanistan after 13 years of international military and civilian assistance. With Karzai barred from standing after serving two terms, it will be Afghanistan’s first democratic transition of power. The 2009 vote was marred by fraud and violence, and authorities face a tough challenge organising a peaceful election and ensuring a transparent vote counting process.
Karzai has vowed not to endorse any candidate and said he considers a credible election as a central part of his legacy. Backstage political manoeuvring in Kabul has reached fever pitch ahead of the October 6 deadline for nominations, though it remains unclear who else will run for president.
Abdullah Abdullah, the 2009 runner-up, is expected to put his name forward this week, while others may include Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, Karzai’s brother Qayum and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf. The Taliban have vowed to step up attacks ahead of the withdrawal of Nato-led coalition forces by the end of next year, and their leader Mullah Omar has dismissed the election as “a waste of time”.
In previous elections, the Taliban called on Afghans to boycott voting, sent fighters to block roads to polling stations and targeted candidates and activists.
The US, which has 57,000 troops in Afghanistan, has plans to retain around 10,000 soldiers after 2014 if both countries sign a long-delayed security agreement.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, on a visit to see troops in South Korea, yesterday repeated Washington’s wish to see the deal by the end of October.
But Karzai has said it must first be discussed by a national jirga (assembly), and may not be signed until the next president takes office. A UN General Assembly report on Afghanistan, released earlier this month, pointed to concerns that the jirga could be used to delay the election or change the constitution.
Abdullah pulled out of the second round of the 2009 election after vote-rigging. AFP