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Warlords, Democrats and Extremists – Afghanistan's Next Presidential Candidates

Twenty-seven candidates have registered for Afghanistan's presidential elections, which will take place on April 5, 2014. Along with the warlords who have dominated Afghanistan's political space for decades, there are also a few technocrats running in next year's ballot. As language and ethnicity play crucial roles in Afghan politics, candidates have tended to select their two vice-presidential picks from different ethnic groups in order to increase their electability. Fawzia Koofi, a famous female politician, has withdrawn from the ballot, leaving only one female presidential candidate. 

October 6, 2013, was the last day of registration for the presidential nominees. The candidates were required to submit the names of their would-be-vice-presidents, 100,000 signatures of support for their nomination and $20,000. Candidates currently part of President Hamid Karzai's government have resigned from their posts. As soon a the list of the candidates became known, Afghans began to debate the candidates and their VP picks on Twitter:

Naseh tweeted:

Hafiz Hamim took note of those who had resigned from their ministerial positions with the hope of claiming the presidency.

Candidate added on Twitter:

While Ekram Shinwari flagged the participation of another Karzai regime heavyweight:

The candidates’ files will be reviewed and approved by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and a final list will be announced by November 2013. Farzad Lami, an Afghan journalist and blogger, confirmed the number of candidates, tweeting:

Prominent candidates: 

  • Qayum Karzai: President Hamid Karzai's older brother, a former Afghan MP and presidential advisor who owns businesses in Baltimore, Maryland.

VP picks: Wahidullah Shahrani (former minister of mines from Uzbek ethnic group) and Ibrahim Qasemi (a lawmaker from the Hazara ethnic group).

VP picks: Mohammad Khan, Hezb-e Islami's deputy leader and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, an MP, lawmaker and one of the recognized leaders of the Hazara ethnic group.

  • Abdul Rasul Sayyaf: Accused of war crimes himself, Abdul Rasul Sayyaaf has fought to enact a law granting amnesty to people accused of war crimes. He is also known as the man who brought Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan. 

VP picks: Mohammad Ismail Khan, a former water and energy minister and Abdul Wahab Irfan, an Afghan senator.

  • Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai: President Hamid Karzai's top advisor, who placed fourth in the 2009 presidential election and is well-known among Westerners, especially in Washington. Ghani also consults for the World Bank.

VP picks: General Abdul Rashid Dostum (popular among ethnic Uzbeks) and Sarwar Danish, a former justice minister (supported by former ethnic Hazara warlord and vice president, Karim Khalili,). 

  • Zalmai Rassoul: Former foreign minister, popular in the West and supported by President Karzai.

Vice presidents: Ahmad Zia Massoud, brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud (ethnically Tajik) and Habiba Sarabi, Bamiyan's provincial governor (ethnically Hazara).


Karzai the elder, Sayyaf, Rassoul, Abdullah and Ghani are viewed as the strongest candidates in the 2014 vote. (Wiki commons photos remixed by author)

Karzai the elder, Sayyaf, Rassoul, Abdullah and Ghani are viewed as the strongest candidates in the 2014 vote. (Wiki commons photos remixed by author). 

Razaq Mamoon, an Afghan journalist and blogger, blogged [Dari] about Dr. Abdullah's incorrect choice of vice presidents. 

ائتلاف جمیعت اسلامی با بخش انشعابی حزب اسلامی، و یک بخش حزب وحدت اسلامی ( به رهبری آقای محقق) یک ائتلاف فوق العادهکم توان است وچانس پیروزی شان نیز کمتراز بیست وپنج درصد خواهد بود

Coalition of Hezb-e Islami and Hezb-e Wahdat (partially led by Mr. Muhaqiq) is an extremely weak alliance and its chance of winning might be less than 25%.

As Afghanistan's politics has long been associated with corruption and civil war, its politicians are commonly viewed as being either corrupt, war criminals or both. Samira Hamidi, disappointed with the lack of choices for 2014, posted on Twitter:

Will the winner be an alleged war criminal?

Much netizen attention was focused on Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's controversial candidacy. Sayyaf, who has been blamed for the death of thousands and credited with training insurgents, may have trouble garnering sufficient support to win the vote, but will be able to fall back on his own constituency of hardcore conservatives.

Farzad Lami tweeted of Sayyaf's candidacy:

A blogger, Shami Witness’ ironic tweet reads:

Samira Hamidi echoed the ridicule:

Subel Bhandari, a journalist covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, highlighted the fact that with candidates like Dr. Abdullah, who has the backing of highly-placed officials in the Karzai regime (Marshal Fahim and Ismael Khan), it will be difficult for Sayyaf to achieve victory:

NilofarMassoud, complaining about the process of candidate registration, tweeted:

Sayed Salahuddin, referring to the ethnic balancing tactic, tweeted:

Massoud Hossaini tweeted about the only woman candidate running in the presidential race:

Fawzia Koofi, who was planning to run for presidency, changed her mind. In one of her tweets she stated:

Also expressing her concern regarding the decline of female presence in the presidential elections, she tweeted:

International correspondent, Lucy Kafanov was concerned about the possibility of delays to the vote, tweeting:

Finally, disappointed by the lack of improvements in the country after the last presidential vote, Sayed Salahuddin tweeted:


This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.


  • batol shanoory

    Thanks for the excellent information :)

  • Raymond Moser

    Opium accounts for 50% of the Afghanistan economy, yet is rarely mentioned as a huge special interest. During the Presidential campaign, will anyone address this “elephant in the room?”

    • Samea Shanori

      That is a complex issue, I guess no one is going to talk about it for now.

      • Raymond Moser

        What is complex to figure out. Opium production is against Muslim and all international secure law. It is the root of the Afghan inability to evolve from a corrupt, lawless culture. There is much evidence to suggest that ALL of Afghan is complicit in supporting or directly benefitting from this death business. Only the Afghan people can erase the SHAME of their culture.

        • Samea Shanori

          First of all it is not our culture. Second, obviously some individuals from governmental institutions are involved with this business. In addition, the government of Afghanistan is not the only party involved in this issue, regional states play their role as well.

          • Raymond Moser

            Opium production constitutes 50% of Afghan GDP. 50%!!!! Let me repeat that 50%. You are like a drug addict blaming others for the problem that only he can control. Get over it and rescue your nation from shameful dysfunction. Accepting responsibility is the first step in taking charge of one’s life.

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