The second crucial democratic election since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, in Afghanistan, begins Saturday while candidates like Abdullah Abdullah and his vice presidential choice, Mohammed Mohaqiq await the results. Because of deep ethnic alliances in Afghanistan, front-runners like Abdullah have aligned themselves with running partners of differing ethnicity, showing a readiness to overlook race in the name of democracy.
Abdullah Abdullah, who identifies with the Tajik ethnicity, served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs under current Afghan President Hamid Karazi from October 2001 to April 2005. He stepped down from his duties in 2005 to set his sights on the 2009 presidential election, of which he came in second behind Karazi. Abdullah was popular in Afghanistan’s most recent election, gaining 30.5 percent of the votes. In 2011, he created what would become the National Coalition of Afghanistan, the main opposition to the Karazi administration. Karazi will not be running on Saturday due to constitutional restraints.
Abdullah is currently first in the polls, only reaching above Ashraf Ghani, by no small help from his running mate, Mohammed Mohaqiq. While all Afghan presidential candidates are allowed two vice presidents, Abdullah and Ghani both have been vocal in promoting a singular partner. Mohaqiq is from the northern city, Mazar-i-Sharif, a stronghold of the Hazara ethnic minority. Hazaras have historically been the punching bag of Afghanistan’s ethnic disputes, representing a vulnerable nine percent of the population.
Mohaqiq, unlike his political competitor Abdul Rashid Dostum, fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Following the retreat of the soviets in 1989, he was part of the alliance with Dostum and famed Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud which ousted the unpopular ruler, President Najibullah. The leaders then divided once more, trying to clutch any unclaimed piece of Afghanistan.
As the civil war raged on between Mohaqiq’s Hazaras, Dostum’s Uzbeks and Massoud’s Tajiks, a new force came to power in the late 1990’s. The Taliban, who are popular for recruiting members of the last and largest Afghan ethnic group, the Pushtans, began seizing major pieces of the disrupted country. The divided groups once again realized they would have to join forces to end the horror of the Taliban, who were extremely criticized for their brutal treatment of women and crude war tactics. Of this realization was born the Northern Alliance, the main militia waging war with the Taliban.
Mohaqiq was one of few warlords who remained in Afghanistan throughout the duration of the Taliban regime. Dostum, for example, fled to Turkey once Taliban invasion of the north was evident. In the beginning of September 2001 though, everything changed. Massoud, who had become the leader and hero of the Northern Alliance was assassinated by the Taliban. Two days later, the September 11th terrorist attacks struck the United States.
The American invasion led to fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the interim government led by Karazi, who again was appointed president in 2004. Mohaqiq placed third in the extremely fraudulent 2004 elections, whose results were eventually interpreted by the United Nations. In the beginning of his political career, Mohaqiq made the controversial decision to diplomatically support Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who is held responsible for a Hazara massacre during Afghanistan’s Civil War.
Mohaqiq said the alignment was an effort to bring peace between the historically abused Hazara and the unfairly judged Pushtan, of whom many are anti-Taliban despite their ethnic ties to the group. He is also the owner of the Rah-i-Farda TV and Radio Station, where he insists on unbiased information. “Since there is the freedom of expression,” he said, “the ministry of information should not [only] air programs in favor of the government.”
It is likely that Abdullah and vice presidential candidate Mohaqiq are ranked first in Afghanistan’s election, as they are the only pair who made the crucial decision to appeal to all four national ethnicities. Mohaqiq is undoubtedly supported by his ethnic Hazara group, who are elated by his likely victory with Abdullah and the assumed recognition that will come with it. He is also supported in part by the Pushtan, after his political allegiance with Sayyaf.
Abdullah, a self-identified Tajik who had close ties with Massoud, is also half Pashtun. The Pashtuns believe Abdullah, while standing for the rights of the Tajiks, will not forget his other, Pushtan half. The Uzbek minority while not rallying to Abdullah’s speeches, are not heckling at them either. This is likely because neither Mohaqiq and Abdullah ever swayed from their Northern Alliance with the Uzbeks. For a country so deeply divided by race, the indifference shown by the Uzbek group is a victory for this ticket.
The election on Saturday will be watched closely by the United States and its western allies who made democracy possible in the aftermath of the Taliban regime. The three top candidates have all expressed interest in signing a U.S. troop agreement Karazi would never agree to, which would keep an international military presence in the fragile country after elections.
The crucial choice of Mohaqiq as his vice presidential candidate has so far moved Abdullah Abdullah to the top of Afghanistan’s election polls. 75 percent of Afghanistan’s population is predicted to be in voting booths on Saturday.
By Erin P. Friar (Boston)