The PJ Tatler

Afghanistan's Next First Lady Could be a Christian


Afghanistan’s Khaama Press yesterday reported that 10 candidates have qualified to run to replace President Hamid Karzai in the 2014 elections.

Sixteen other candidates were eliminated for reasons such as dual nationality or not gathering 100,000 voter signatures toward their election bid.


One of the candidates is Abdullah Abdullah, second from the right on the top row, a doctor and former adviser in the Northern Alliance that battled the Taliban and al-Qaeda before the coalition invasion. Abdullah was appointed foreign minister in the interim administration and held that position through the first permanent administration, stepping down in 2005. Citing Karzai’s corruption, Abdullah ran for president in 2009 but withdrew due to the tainted election process.

Afteward, Abdullah created the Coalition for Change and Hope and later the National Coalition of Afghanistan to challenge Karzai’s government.

For one, Abdullah has called out Karzai’s intention of negotiating with the Taliban just plain dumb.

“I should say that Taliban are not fighting in order to be accommodated,” Abdullah told NPR in 2010. “They are fighting in order to bring the state down. So it’s a futile exercise, and it’s just misleading. … There are groups that will fight to the death. Whether we like to talk to them or we don’t like to talk to them, they will continue to fight.”

In 2009, Abdullah caused a stir (chagrin among Islamists and excitement among Afghanistan’s women) when he voted alongside his wife at the polls. He speaks Dari, Pashto, English, Arabic and French.

“For a successful political transition, Afghanistan needs every country involved in its rebuilding effort to send a clear message to today’s Afghan leadership demanding a democratic transition of power based on the principles of free and fair elections,” Abdullah wrote in Foreign Policy in January. “Instead of abandoning democracy because it hasn’t worked under a kleptocracy, Afghanistan and the international community must clean it up.”


Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, middle top row, is an Islamist warlord. Abdul Rahim Wardak, second from right on the bottom row, was Karzai’s defense minister. Hedayat Amin Arsala, bottom row center, was Karzai’s vice president. Zalmai Rassoul, second from left on the top, is a former foreign minister. Qotbuddin Helal, bottom right, is a high-ranking member of the Taliban-allied insurgent group Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan. Qayoum Karzai, bottom left, is Hamid’s older brother. Gul Agha Sherzoi, top row right, is the former governor of Nangarhar Province. Sardar Nader Naeem, second from left on the bottom row, is King Zahir Shah’s grandson.

Rounding out the crop is another intriguing possibility, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, top left.

The former chancellor of Kabul University worked at the World Bank and served as finance minister from 2002-04; his reputation before declining another stint in the cabinet was that he couldn’t be bribed. After the Taliban took over he taught at UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. After the fall of the Taliban, he returned to his home after 24 years away and became chief adviser to Karzai, receiving wide coverage in international media. After resigning from the cabinet, he reinvigorated educational programs for both men and women at Kabul University.

Ghani ran against Karzai in 2009 yet finished fourth; he hired James Carville as a campaign consultant then. He’s for women’s rights but also supports negotiating with the Taliban if the terrorists agree to a ceasefire first.


Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Ghani is his wife, Rula, whom he met while attending the American University of Beirut during the late 1970s. “For her public presence and stylish European dress, Rula Ghani stands out as the most Westernized woman among the Kabuli elite,” notes one Afghan observer. And, as a bio of Ghani’s U.S.-born son Tarek notes, Rula is a Lebanese Christian.

The presidential election is set for April 5.

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