Who is Abdullah Abdullah?
The challenger in the Nov. 7 presidential runoff election in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, said Sunday that he might withdraw unless Hamid Karzai takes steps to ensure that the runoff will be fair.
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President Obama's strategic review of the Afghan war was keyed by fears that the Karzai administration has become so rotted by corruption that it could not be a reliable partner in helping to build a secure Afghanistan. The concerns came to a head after the Aug. 20 election, which involved widespread corruption, largely in Karzai's favor.
One major US newspaper, The Boston Globe, has called on the Obama administration to work behind the scenes for an Abdullah victory Nov. 7, saying "the United States can no longer be associated with the corrupt, abusive government of Hamid Karzai."
Abdullah's appearance on US television appeared to be an attempt to leverage these doubts to his advantage.
He said Sunday that corruption in Karzai's government mean it cannot be reliable partner that the United States needs in order to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
"There is no doubt that the partnership has not been working well in the past few month and the past few years," Abdullah said.
"Everybody knows the record of the past eight years. There was a golden opportunity" to establish security after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, he said. "That golden opportunity we missed" because of the failures of the "incompetent" Afghan government, he added.
What Abdullah wants
Abdullah also said he would refuse any overture to become a part of the Karzai government, dismissing talk of a behind-the-scenes power-sharing deal. If true, the statement is significant, in that much of Afghan politics is founded upon deals between opponents to share the spoils of power.
Indeed, one of Abdullah's primary criticisms of the Karzai government has been it is prone to cronyism.
It is a result, he and others say, of how the international community designed the Afghan government in 2001. By creating a strongly centralized government – with the urbane, Westernized Karzai at its head – Afghanistan's tendency to splinter along ethnic lines would be suppressed. Karzai, for example, chooses the governors for all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
But the situation leaves him ideally placed for doling out favors, and the corruption that has resulted has doomed the Afghan political experiment, he says.
Abdullah wants power in Afghan politics to be disbursed more evenly among the president, legislature, and local authorities. The platform is self-serving, since Abdullah is a member of the opposition. He is backed by the National Front, a group of former warlords now pushed to the margins of power.
Yet the commander of US forces in Afghanistan agrees with at least one aspect of Abdullah's assessment: Afghanistan's centralized government goes against the country's political traditions and is in part responsible for the lack of law and order in rural areas.
"The top-down approach to developing government capacity has failed to provide services that reach local communities," Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in his battlefield assessment. "The Afghan government has not integrated or supported traditional community governance structures – historically an important component of Afghan civil society – leaving communities vulnerable to being undermined by insurgent groups and power-brokers."
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