Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah says he will not exclude anyone, including his fiercest rivals, from government if he wins Afghanistan's presidential election.
Abdullah is among the front-runners to win the April 5 presidential election. Preliminary results are not expected until April 24, but partial results released on April 13 give him the lead. He spoke to RFE/RL's Frud Bezhan about contesting the possible second round and his plans should he win.
RFE/RL: What sets you apart from the other candidates, particularly fellow front-runners Ashraf Ghani and Zalmai Rasul?
Abdullah Abdullah: My experience, my vision, my service to my country, and the votes I have received from the people of Afghanistan based on my programs. I've been in the service of the nation since I was working in the resistance [to the Soviet Union] as a medical doctor. Since then I've been in Afghanistan, and throughout this period I have been involved and engaged in the nation's affairs.
Since 2001, I've been in the government and then in the opposition. The other candidates have not been in the opposition, which I have been in for the past six years. I've rejected offers of seats in the government. As citizens of this country, we are of equal rights and responsibilities. But as a candidate, that distinction was made by the people voting for me more than the others.
RFE/RL: If you became president, would you change the political system in Afghanistan? You have often talked about decentralizing power, introducing federalism and creating the position of prime minister, which currently does not exist in Afghanistan.
Abdullah: Changing the system from a presidential to parliamentary system is part of our political platform. Of course, that can't take place automatically because quite a few things need to be done first so we will be able to do so. Without holding a Constitutional Loya Jirga [traditional meeting of tribal, ethnic, and religious leaders] you cannot change the constitution.
Empowering the political parties and changing the electoral law is also part of that political package. Empowering the district and provincial councils and allowing for the devolution of some authority to the provinces is part of our political platform.
RFE/RL: There has been speculation that President Hamid Karzai is trying to meddle in the election. There have been rumors that he has spoken to you about creating a deal with Rasul, widely believed to be Karzai's favored candidate, in order to avoid a second round runoff. Is there any truth to this?
Abdullah: A meeting with President Karzai has taken place. My meeting with Karzai, which I wanted, was not to raise the possibility of a coalition but rather about the role the president as well as his team can play at the national level in the future of this country.
There is no doubt that there is [a] certain level of competence in his team, which might be needed for the country. Based on our vision of inclusive government and meritocratic appointments, wherever we see competence, talent, and expertise, we'll go for it, be it from the government or other camps.
I never raised the issue of how to prevent going to a second round and I didn't ask [Karzai] for support in any way. My point was that the first round might give a result or, in accordance with [a] transparent and fair process, if it goes to a second round we are ready. There were exchanges of ideas but I was not encouraged to do this or that.
RFE/RL: If elected, you have said that you will offer Karzai a role in the government after he steps down. In what capacity?
Abdullah: We haven't gone into any details, and he has not discussed this issue with me. Generally, as far as advising the future president of the country and strengthening national unity is concerned, Karzai will be in the service of the country.
RFE/RL: You currently lead in the partial results that were recently released by the Independent Election Commission. What do you put that down to? Observers say a key part of your success has been capturing a large chunk of the Hazara voting bloc.
Abdullah: I've collected a lot of votes from across different ethnic groups, including a significant number of votes from the Hazara areas in the country. But I have captured votes from across the ethnic groups, across the provinces and across all regions of the country.
RFE/RL: Some Afghans have expressed concern that if you are elected, your government will be dominated by former warlords and Islamists. Both your vice-presidential running mates are members of Islamist parties. What's your reaction?
Abdullah: People don't have this fear. But there are certain people who know this is not true but spread it anyway. If people had these fears -- or any other fears -- people wouldn't have voted for us. In all the corners and villages of Afghanistan we have received people's votes.
RFE/RL: Will be there a place for your rivals in your government if you are elected as president?
Abdullah: Based on the priorities of the country, based on our visions, and based on our platform for the future of Afghanistan, those who share our vision and are ready to cooperate, we do not exclude them. We are not making any exclusion.
But I'm rejecting a deal that would avoid a second round. If it did go to a second round in accordance with a free and fair process, we need to go to a second round in order for the people to give their final verdict. But we are not excluding anybody from the government. I will make meritocratic appointments based on people's expertise and the needs of the future government of Afghanistan.