Special Report

Afghan Elections: The Contenders

Only one will win -- but all five look certain to figure on the Afghan political scene for years to come.

Hamid Karzai

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

Hometown: Kandahar

Key supporters: Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Hazaras

Background: The current Afghan president was the darling of the Bush administration, which played well at first with his constituency, who felt that U.S.  support would soon translate into U.S. dollars.

Now, eight years later, most Afghans have not seen the benefit of the foreign presence. Karzai is blamed for a multitude of problems: the failure of aid programs, deteriorating security situation, booming corruption, and an inability to rein in foreign troops, whose heavy-handed actions have precipitated a backlash and curried support for the insurgency, especially in the south. Karzai is still the front-runner, most likely due to the Afghan penchant for picking the winning side. He has used and, many say, abused the liberal advantages of incumbency and has outspent his rivals by a wide margin.  But Karzai's support is broad, not deep, and could evaporate quickly if he begins to look vulnerable.

Odds of winning: High


Abdullah Abdullah

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Hometown: Contested -- either Kabul or the Panjshir Valley

Key supporters: Tajiks

Background: A trained ophthalmologist, Abdullah is suave, at ease with the press, and speaks several languages, including English. Although running as an independent, Abdullah was the pick of the National United Front, a loose coalition of parties opposed to Karzai. He has a strong following in the north and in the provinces directly north of Kabul; as his popularity grows, so does the possibility of his tipping a swing vote away from Karzai.

Abdullah's greatest asset is his close association with the legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, whose handsome, brooding face graces many of Abdullah's campaign posters. But Massoud, who was assassinated two days before the September 11 attacks, might prove to be just as much of a liability to his former spokesman. Called the Lion of the Panjshir, he is revered as a national hero by a large part of the population, but reviled by the Pashtuns -- who see him as no better than the rest of the warlords who tore the country apart during the civil war from 1992 to 1996.

Odds of winning: Slim, but growing


Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Hometown: Logar province

Key supporters: Pashtuns and intellectuals

Background: The former finance minister does not suffer from an excess of modesty. When asked what went wrong with the Karzai administration, of which he was once a prominent part, Ghani said simply, "I left."

A brilliant theoretician, Ghani has the best shot at getting Afghanistan back on track, say many informed observers. He has detailed, coherent plans for fixing the economy, dealing with the international community, attracting investment, and creating jobs for Afghans. He has a good track record as an administrator, but is not an adept politician, making his plans moot unless he teams up with a likely winner. Ghani has stated publicly that he will not accept a position in a Karzai government.

Ghani's ego seems to be at least as prominent as his intellect, and it might be difficult to convince him to accept anything less than the top spot. Still, insiders say that he is in close contact with Washington, which, despite disclaimers, seems to be trying to broker an alliance between Ghani and Abdullah. He has also brought in Washington insider James Carville, the campaign strategist credited with Bill Clinton's 1992 win, as an advisor.

Odds of winning: Next to nil


Mirwais Yasini

Hometown: Kabul

Key supporters: Virtually no Afghan supporters, but popular with the international community

Background: This parliamentarian, who is not well known at home, has risen to campaign prominence thanks to visits from several prominent international guests, among them EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, who met with him as one of a trio of "leading contenders," along with Abdullah and Ghani. Yasini is much more popular with the international community than with his compatriots, but this might be enough to gain him a prominent position in the new administration.

Yasini is a former deputy minister for counternarcotics and is currently first deputy speaker of the parliament. This does not explain the fascination that the international community seems to have for him. He is frequently mentioned as one of the top three, though this assessment would not be shared by many in the electorate.

Odds of winning: zero


 

Ramazan Bashardost

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Hometown: Ghazni province

Key supporters: Broad-based support among those disgruntled with other candidates; also popular among his fellow Hazaras

Background: This firebrand reformer is running an electrifying campaign, fulfilling the dark-horse role of raising questions that the mainstream candidates do not want to and cannot answer.

Driving around the country in a rickety bus, meeting with laborers and farmers in remote corners of the country, the outspoken Basher Dost lambastes almost all of his rivals with equal fervor. He has bitterly criticized the small army of nongovernmental organizations that exist, he says, just to bilk the Afghan people of money that should rightfully be theirs, and he decries the lavish cars and homes of his fellow parliamentarians.

He is running an unorthodox campaign, on a very thin shoestring. His headquarters are in a tent pitched outside the parliament, and in his first two weeks of campaigning he said he spent about $200. And though he is too colorful to ever become mainstream, he looks sure to serve as Afghanistan's populist conscience for some years to come.

Odds of winning: Next to nil

Special Report

Jihadistan

The Blog Daily Brief Jihadistan Afghan Election Watch

 

Jihadistan

BY PETER BERGEN AND KATHERINE TIEDEMANN


Introduction

Pakistan is the headquarters of both al Qaeda and the Taliban, while Pakistani nuclear scientists have met with Osama bin Laden and proliferated nuclear technology to rogues states such as North Korea. Few countries in the world worry the Obama administration more. In past months the Taliban have moved deep into Pakistan, at one point taking up positions just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad. The Pakistani military is pushing back with aggressive military operations in the Swat Valley, which the government effectively ceded to Taliban control earlier this year. The fighting has displaced more than 2 million Pakistanis.

Just how stable is this nuclear-armed state? Where are Pakistan's nukes, and how large is the country's nuclear program? Just how strong are Pakistan's militants? And how has the United States or the Pakistani state dealt with them either through military action or peace agreements? These are some of the questions we hope to try to answer in these graphics.

Nuclear Weapons

As the violence rises in Pakistan, Americans are increasingly worried about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal; 87 percent in a poll this year said this issue concerned them. The locations of Pakistan's dozen or so nuclear facilities are largely a secret, but what is known is that one of the main nuclear research facilities is in Kahuta, outside Islamabad. This is where uranium is enriched via gas centrifuges. The district of Khushab, in Punjab province, is home to two plutonium production reactors, which may have eclipsed the uranium enrichment at Kahuta as Pakistan's primary source of fissile material.

One key fact: Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear weapons program in the world.

Locations and functions of the various parts of Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure are available here (pdf) in a map from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Jihadi Violence

Jihadi violence has grown exponentially in Pakistan over the last several years. Insurgent attacks have increased more than 700 percent since 2005, and suicide attacks have increased 20-fold. Suicide bombers managed, for instance, to strike in three places in Pakistan in just one 24-hour period in April.

 

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Insurgent attacks

-

-

-

-

254

657

1,306

2,148

1,446*

Suicide attacks

-

4

 

6

3

9

60

63

 

*January to June 2009

The number of Pakistanis who say their country is heading in the wrong direction has tracked closely with the accelerating trend of jihadi violence.

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Pakistan headed in wrong direction (pdf)





 

45%

59%

86%

81%

Suicide Attack Locations

One way to map the spread of violence in Pakistan is by tracking the locations of suicide attacks. By analyzing reliable media reports and data from the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad, we were able to create the maps below for 2004 to 2008.

 

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

Suicide attacks in Pakistan

6

3

9

60

63

The trend is clear: From only six suicide attacks in Pakistan in 2004 to 63 in 2008, terrorist violence has risen exponentially. Click the highlighted areas for more details about each attack.

2008


View Larger Map

2007


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2006


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2005


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2004


View Larger Map

Predator Strikes and al Qaeda

Just three days into his presidency, Obama authorized a near-simultaneous pair of drone strikes against targets in North and South Waziristan. Between when he took office and August 7, there have been 28 strikes, roughly one per week. Our analysis shows that these attacks have killed some 350 people, with the August 5 attack killing Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. Only one other strike has killed another important al Qaeda or Taliban leader, presumably because many of them have decamped from the tribal areas following the 34 drone attacks there last year which killed at least 10 militant leaders. Today the drone program seems to have hit the point of diminishing returns.

The drone strikes have certainly put pressure on al Qaeda. In 2008, the terrorist group released less than half the number of audio- and videotapes that it did the year before. An organization which is concentrating on survival has little time to put out communiqués. This year al Qaeda is cranking out a relatively higher volume of tapes than it did last year, but still far less than it did at its peak in 2007.

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Al Qaeda tapes released

-

6

11

13

16

58

97

49

41*

*as of August 5, 2009

Hearts and Minds

Since 2007, both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban have been losing some popularity in Pakistan, a drop that coincides with the dramatic increases in terrorist attacks there. But this has not translated into more support for the United States; fewer than one in four Pakistani respondents have a favorable view of America. And when asked to name the principal threat to their security, more than half chose the United States, while only 8 percent said al Qaeda.

 

2005

2006

2007

2008

Favorable views of bin Laden

51% 

-

46% (pdf, p. 41)

34% (pdf, p. 58)

Favorable views of the Taliban

-

-

38% (pdf, p. 35)

23% (pdf, p. 49)

Positive views of U.S.

23%

26% (pdf, p. 13)

19% (pdf, p. 21)

17% (pdf, p. 28)

Pakistani Efforts to Stop the Violence
Military: Examples of Fighting Between Militants and Pakistani Security Forces

March to April 2009. Taliban militants began to impose sharia law in the Swat Valley as part of the conditions of the Malakand Accord, but their incursion into Buner sparked a more robust Pakistani military response than in the past. The fighting continues today between some 4,000 militants and 15,000 soldiers.

November 2007. Extremists loyal to Maulana Fazlullah, Taliban leader in Swat, seized territory in the Swat Valley and attempted to impose sharia law over the region. The Pakistani Army responded by sending a force of 20,000 soldiers to counter the radical cleric, and several weeks of fighting followed. By early December, the military claimed to have driven all the militants out, killing nearly 300 and capturing 140. The rest of Fazlullah's estimated 5,000 fighters melt back into the population.

July 2007. The Red Mosque siege in Islamabad, a violent confrontation between militants campaigning for the imposition of sharia law and Pakistani security forces, left at least 87 people dead, including militant cleric leader Abdur Rashid Ghazi and 11 members of the Pakistani special forces. Although the Pakistani military pushed the militants out of the mosque after a week of fighting, suicide attacks drastically ratcheted up following the conflict; between January and June, there were 11, but between July and December there were 49.

March 2004. Heavy fighting between 500 Taliban militants and some 5,000 Pakistani soldiers broke out near Wana, South Waziristan. More than 100 militants and soldiers died in the conflict, which ended after nearly a week of back-and-forth hostilities. The next month, the Pakistani Army signed a peace agreement with the militants, viewed as a concession to the extremists.

Pakistan Army Deployments

2009

There are 555,000 military personnel, of whom 360,000 are near the border with India.

As of May 10, President Asif Ali Zardari said 125,000 troops are on the border with Afghanistan. In April, the Pakistani military moved 6,000 troops from the border with India (that were moved there after the 2008 Mumbai attacks perpetrated by Pakistani militants).

More than 1,500 Pakistani soldiers have been killed fighting the militants since 2001.

In the past several months, Pakistan has moved 15,000 soldiers into the area around Swat and Buner following the collapse of the February peace agreement with the Taliban.

2008

On Dec. 28, following the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, which heighted tensions between India and Pakistan, the Pakistan Army moved 20,000 troops from the Afghan border to the Indian border.

2006

Some 80,000 soldiers on the border with Afghanistan engaged with militants.

2003

Some 70,000 troops were in tribal regions along Afghan border.

December 2001

The Pakistani Army sent the first of 6,000 soldiers to the Afghan border, an area where it previously had no presence.

Diplomatic: 'Peace' Agreements

For the past five years, the Pakistani military and/or government has signed a number of "peace" deals with the Taliban. Generally these deals have been ratifications of military failure, and in any event, every deal has brought further Taliban advances, suggesting that appeasing the Taliban is invariably counterproductive.

--February 2009. Swat Valley truce, known as the Malakand Accord.

--September 2006. North Waziristan truce between Pakistani government and Taliban; after the truce, Pakistan's Army pulled back "tens of thousands of troops."

--February 2005. Sararogha peace agreement with the Pakistani Army and the Taliban and (Baitullah) Mehsud tribes.

--April 2004. Shakai peace agreement between South Waziristan militants and Pakistani Army.

Taliban Presence in Pakistan

Below is the best map we have found about the status of the Taliban presence today. It was based on a thorough and labor-intensive analysis by BBC's Urdu service.

 (BBC, May 12, 2009)

Peter Bergen is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of The Osama bin Laden I Know, and Katherine Tiedemann is a policy analyst at the New America Foundation.

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With presidential elections approaching and a wave of U.S. troops who entered last month, Afghanistan has been struggling to establish itself as a stable state. The war that began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks has dragged on, and the only thing certain is that there's still a long road ahead.