Ahmad Zia Mas'ud
Rumors are flying left, right, and center in the run-up to Afghanistan's first democratic presidential elections, scheduled to be held on 9 October.
On 26 July, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai shocked observers when he sidelined Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim and chose Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, brother of the late commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, as his running mate for first vice president (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). The move suggested a desperate bid to garner support, especially among the mujahedin. And what better way to win over the mujahedin than to run with the brother of a slain national hero?
But who is Ahmad Zia Mas'ud? He was the newly appointed ambassador to Russia, Armenia, and Georgia. He is also the former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's son-in-law (for an exclusive interview with Rabbani regarding the elections, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). The 48-year-old father of four recently moved into the presidential palace in Kabul, but his family resides in Dubai.
Freelance correspondent Tanya Goudsouzian recently questioned the newest face on Afghanistan's political scene for RFE/RL.
RFE/RL: Do you think democracy is possible in Afghanistan?
Mas'ud: Yes, of course, but in gradual stages. As you can see, there is a growing realization among most political parties and organizations that without a democratically elected government, it will be very difficult to find a solution to the political and social crisis in Afghanistan. We are at the beginning of a new world and a new Afghanistan. Democracy is one of the important pillars for stability and peace in the country. In Afghanistan's recent history, we have had different types of government. We have had a monarch, a president, communism, mujahedin, and the Taliban. For whatever reason, these forms of government could not work for us. Therefore, democracy may be the only solution.
RFE/RL: But critics say the electoral process is not being conducted in a manner that is fair and free.
Mas'ud: You cannot have a perfect process. But it will be monitored by various parties and organizations.
RFE/RL: For example, the constitution stipulates elections must be conducted through secret balloting, but the election law calls for candidates to submit 10,000 voter-card photocopies. Where is the transparency in this?
Mas'ud: The process must be thoroughly checked to make sure that the constitution is being upheld. If there is, in fact, any contradiction between the constitution and the electoral law, then it must be addressed.
RFE/RL: What about reports that certain warlords in the provinces are impeding the process by forcing people to vote for one candidate or another?
Mas'ud: The election process has still not begun, so one cannot judge beforehand. Let the process begin and then we will witness who are the real warlords. We have to be careful not to generalize. There are those who fought for the freedom, dignity, and honor of this country, and they must be respected and remembered. On the other hand, there are some who are preventing the country from building a solid foundation for a functional social and political structure. They are the so-called warlords.
RFE/RL: Why did Chairman Karzai choose you as his candidate for first vice president?
Mas'ud: That is a question for President Karzai.
RFE/RL: What do you think of [former Education Minister] Yunos Qanuni's candidacy?
Mas'ud: Mr. Qanuni is a presidential candidate, however, his candidacy was announced in a hasty manner in reaction to Marshall Fahim being dropped from the post, and not for any known principle or agenda.
RFE/RL: Both Fahim and Qanuni were close associates of your brother, the late Commander Ahmed Shah Mas'ud. What is your relationship with them?
Mas'ud: My relationship with them is normal.
RFE/RL: Is there truth to the reports that Qanuni is negotiating with Karzai to abandon his own presidential campaign in exchange for political concessions?
Mas'ud: You have to ask [Qanuni]. I don't have any information on this matter.
RFE/RL: But will Karzai offer political concessions to Qanuni?
Mas'ud: As I mentioned, I don't have any information.
RFE/RL: But is it true that Qanuni is demanding certain ministerial posts in exchange for the support of Nazhat-e Melli Afghanistan?
Mas'ud: Nahzat-e Melli Afghanistan is a popular political party. The head of Nahzat is Ahmad Wali Mas'ud (for an exclusive interview with Ahmad Wali Mas'ud regarding the elections, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report, 18 August 2004). The party has a collective decision-making body and so, to extend support to any candidate is the right of this body, and not of individual members.
RFE/RL: Is there any difference between the ideology (or platform) of Karzai and Qanuni?
Mas'ud: Platforms have not yet introduced by any candidates.
RFE/RL: Is there any place for Fahim in the future government?
Mas'ud: The platform and the composition of the team have not yet been worked out.
RFE/RL: There have been allegations by rival presidential candidates that this administration is using the state budget to bribe tribal figures to support Karzai.
Mas'ud: So far, the campaigning has not started yet.
RFE/RL: Yes, the campaign starts 30 days before the elections. But according to the allegations, the administration has started inviting tribal figures to Kabul, and buttering them up.
Mas'ud: Anyone has the right to invite people to Kabul.
RFE/RL: As [a candidate for] first vice president, how much interaction do you enjoy with the average people of Afghanistan?
Mas'ud: Most of my day is spent seeing people.
RFE/RL: Do you travel across the country to the provinces to meet with the people?
Mas'ud: Of course, I have in the past, but not since my nomination as [a candidate for] vice president.
RFE/RL: Do you intend to?
Mas'ud: We have to work out our program first.
RFE/RL: You hail from Panjsher Province. You are the brother of the late Commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, and the son-in-law of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Where does this place you on the political spectrum? Should we consider you a Panjsheri politician, or as former President Rabbani's man, or as a member of the Nahzat-e Melli party?
Mas'ud: I am a brother of commander Mas'ud, and a son-in-law of Professor Rabbani, and a founding member of Nahzat-e Melli Afghanistan. Politically, I belong to the entire nation.
RFE/RL: Do you belong to any political party?
Mas'ud: Yes, I belong to Nahzat-e Melli Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Does Karzai have the support of the mujahedin?
Mas'ud: Some of the mujahedin leaders have already announced their support. As for the rest, we will see in due course. This is the first election in the history of Afghanistan. One cannot predict the outcome.
RFE/RL: What is your position on women's rights?
Mas'ud: Women constitute almost half of the Afghan population. They have suffered a lot in the past 20 years. They deserve to be assisted in various areas of their life. Education must be the priority in order for them to realize their rights. Jobs have to be created for them in order to engage them in the reconstruction of a new Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Do you have a work plan to further this agenda?
Mas'ud: We are working on it. We are talking to experts to devise policies and projects.
RFE/RL: Is the U.S.-led coalition doing enough to combat terror, or is it the cause of the terror?
Mas'ud: We must fight terrorism in its different dimensions. Not only militarily, but also economically, politically, socially, and culturally. It is a long war to be fought. It has to [be] fought globally. You must have a strong belief and will to fight terrorism. As such, my late brother commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud fought terrorism for almost a decade with a strong determination and he lost his life to save not only Afghanistan, but the entire world. He is the best example of how to fight terrorism.
RFE/RL: What is your vision for Afghanistan?
Mas'ud: My vision of Afghanistan is national unity, social justice, moderate Islam, democracy, reconstruction, social reforms, a good economy, peace and stability, good neighborly relations, and harmonious coexistence with the world community.