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szdaily -> Person of the week
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai named Afghanistan president
     2014-September-26  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates signed a power-sharing deal Sept. 21 that appoints Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as president, ending months of political wrangling following a disputed runoff that threatened to plunge the country into turmoil and complicate the withdrawal of foreign troops.

    ENDING months of vote-related tension, Afghanistan’s election commission named a new president only hours after the two leading candidates signed a power-sharing deal.

    The commission named Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner and president, noting that Abdullah Abdullah will be the next chief executive.

    But it pointedly did not release final vote totals amid suggestions that doing so could inflame tensions.

    The deal brings to a close an election season that began in April, when millions of Afghans first went to the polls despite threats from Taliban militants, and ended when the two leading candidates signed a national unity government agreement and embraced in a hug.

    Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah signed the national unity government deal as President Hamid Karzai — in power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban — looked on.

    It took weeks of negotiations to form a power-sharing arrangement after accusations of fraud in the June runoff vote.

    The deal is a victory for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who first got the candidates to agree in principle to share power during a July visit to Afghanistan.

    Kerry returned to Kabul in August and spent hours with the candidates, including in repeated phone calls, in an effort to seal the deal.

    A White House statement lauded the two leaders, saying the agreement helps bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis.

    “This agreement marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability in Afghanistan. We continue to call on all Afghans — including political, religious, and civil society leaders — to support this agreement and to come together in calling for cooperation and calm,” the White House statement said.

    NATO said in a statement that it hoped both leaders could move forward “in the spirit of genuine political partnership.”

    The head of the U.N. mission Kabul, Jan Kubis, said in a statement, “the uncertainty of the past months has taken a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s security, economy and governance. For the sake of the country it is time to quickly implement the agreement on a government of national unity.”

    While Sept. 21’s developments have brought a sigh of relief to the war-torn country and its international backers, reaction on the streets in the Afghan capital has been mixed.

    Kabul resident Rahmatullah told VOA he welcomes the good news because the people of Afghanistan were worried about the election deadlock. Now that the candidates have sorted it out, however, it is a good day for the country.

    Other residents, like Sharifullah, expressed disappointment.

    Sharifullah said Afghans are happy the two candidates have finally signed the deal, but they are also sad because it has undermined principles of democracy in Afghanistan.

    He added that the hardships Afghans suffered while voting under extremely difficult conditions have all gone to waste.

    Ghani Ahmadzai, 65, first came to prominence in Afghanistan running the loya jirga — the grand meeting of elders after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

    He was then close to Karzai and served as finance minister from 2002-2004 alongside his future opponent Abdullah, who was foreign minister in the same administration.

    Ghani Ahmadzai had previously been an academic in the United States, and worked for the World Bank. And when he fell out with Karzai in 2004, he was appointed Chancellor of Kabul University, where he was seen as an effective reformer.

    He was a vocal critic of the way international aid money was being wasted in Afghanistan, and in particular money from the United States, which he saw as operating in a “parallel state,” which hired the best Afghans to service foreign offices in Kabul, rather than building effective Afghan institutions.

    In a BBC interview in 2007, he said, “When we build a school by Afghans, the maximum cost is about US$50,000. But when it is built by our international partners, the cost can be as high as US$250,000.”

    The difference was caused by the fact that contractors, many of them foreign, took percentages. He said, “It’s totally legal, but is it not corrupt?”

    However, he had little political support in Afghanistan then, running an ineffective campaign to be president in 2009. He came a poor fourth in a race that was again won by Karzai.

    With Karzai barred by the constitution from standing for a third time, Ghani Ahmadzai mounted a far better campaign in 2014. He built a solid base of support after raising his profile in province after province as the head of the team managing the transition of military control from the U.S.-led coalition to Afghan forces.

    One view of the long negotiations to form a new government was that he kept his nerve, protecting the Afghan constitution, and insisting that the election result be announced.

    But on the other hand, it could be said that he presented an obdurate face against compromise — refusing to give anything in exchange for Abdullah’s early concession that Ghani Ahmadzai should be president.

    He presented a confident public face, refusing to criticize Abdullah, or express impatience as the weeks of negotiations went into months.

    This went against his well-known reputation for having a quick temper.

    He was even comfortable enough to tell a joke against himself, in the one public appearance he made during the last month of talks. He said, “A year ago Dr. Abdullah’s team said ‘you get angry quickly.’ But now they say ‘your quietness is making us angry.’”

    But he tarnished his international reputation as a clean technocrat by his choice of running mate.

    In a newspaper article during his 2009 campaign, Ghani Ahmadzai called him a “known killer.”

    But during the campaign he said that his running mate was an advantage.

    “It is a question of dealing with the past in a credible way, that we practice what we say about inclusion,” he said.

    Although his campaign was far better organized in 2014 than 2009, particularly in the second round, his victory was not complete, and is tarnished by the discovery of far more fraudulent votes on his side than for Abdullah.

    He quickly acknowledged the need for forming an inclusive government, saying that this election would not be concluded in a “winner takes all” manner.

    The deals and compromise he has had to make to get into office may dull the edge of Ghani Ahmadzai’s ambitious plans to reform his country.

    He said during the campaign, “Corruption would not be eliminated in a day, but in five years you will see a very different country.”

    But he is not without international critics. His time at the World Bank coincided with the “Washington consensus,” now criticized by many in the development community for imposing too severe limits on government finances.

    And while no one doubts his intellect, some still wonder if a man with a background as a technocrat has the political skill to deliver results in the complex arena of Afghanistan.(SD-Agencies)

    31 XI FANGDICHANGONGSI QIANTING SHENFENZHENG BIYEZHENG XUEWEIZHENG WEIHUNCHENGNUOSHU

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