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Who's Who Among The Afghan Presidential Candidates

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (center) is up against warlords, former communists, and mujahedin.

Fifteen men will contest Afghanistan’s presidential election on September 28 in a race among old power brokers -- ex-government officials, prominent technocrats, and a notorious former warlord.

The twice-delayed September 28 election is slated to be only the second-ever democratic transition of power in the war-wracked country of 35 million people.

The candidates include some controversial figures from the last four decades of conflict in the country -- former cadres of the Soviet-backed communist regime of the 1980s, mujahedin from the civil war that erupted in the early 1990s, as well as members of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 until 2001.

Each candidate has entered the race on tickets that include first- and second- vice presidential running mates. These are often the result of political horse-trading that can forge unlikely unions. In a country where no ethnic group can dominate the political scene on its own, candidates cross ethnic lines to choose high-profile running mates who can marshal votes from specific ethnic communities. The results can defy logic and assumptions based on previous electoral alliances and coalitions.

If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of the election on September 28, a second round will be held between the top two finishers.

The Front-Runner

Ashraf Ghani​

A Pashtun, President Ashraf Ghani is from the country’s largest ethnic group. He has picked Amrullah Saleh, an ex-intelligence chief and one of the president’s fiercest critics, as one of two running mates. Saleh is a prominent ethnic Tajik, the second-largest ethnic group, with grassroots support among the youth. Ghani did not have a Tajik running mate in 2014.

Ghani controversially chose Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former ethnic Uzbek militia leader who has been accused of serious human rights violations, as his running mate in 2014.

But the two have fallen out since then and Dostum has left the country amid a criminal case launched against him.

Ghani has gained the support of Alem Sa’i, an ethnic Uzbek and a former governor of Jawzjan Province, to tap into the Uzbek voter base usually dominated by Dostum.

Dostum is now backing Abdullah.

Ghani’s other running mate is Sarwar Danish, an ethnic Hazara and a current vice president. The Hazara are the third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.​

Abdullah Abdullah

Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah has attempted to seal two important voting blocs -- the Hazaras and Uzbeks that together constitute some 20 percent of the population -- by courting two longtime ethnic leaders.

Abdullah has gained the support of Mohammad Karim Khalili and Mohammad Mohaqeq, two powerful but controversial former Hazara warlords.

Abdullah’s running mates are Enayatullah Babur Farahmand, an ethnic Uzbek ally of Dostum, and Asadullah Sadati, a Hazara who is backed by Khalili, a former vice president.

Abdullah also has support from Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a Pashtun and former finance minister. Ahadi supported Ghani in the 2014 vote but has since established his own party.

Abdullah’s standing among his own ethnic Tajik community has taken a hit. A prominent member of the Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e Islami, Abdullah's influence in the party has waned and he has lost the support of several party stalwarts.​

The Outsiders

Rahmatullah Nabil

The two-time head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS), the country’s main intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil is a Pashtun from the central province of Maidan Wardak.

Nabil, 51, is an outspoken opponent of the Taliban and its chief backer, Pakistan. He has also been fiercely critical of Ghani’s administration, blaming him for the growing insecurity and endemic government corruption.

His vice presidential running mates are Murad Ali Murad, a Hazara who was the deputy interior minister and an army commander, and Massuda Jalal, an ethnic Tajik who was the former minister of women’s affairs.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Afghanistan’s most notorious former warlord and militant leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is the head of the Hezb-e Islami militant group that signed a controversial peace deal with the government in 2016.

He has since taken over the leadership of the Hezb-e Islami political party.
Hekmatyar, 70, lives in a government-funded residence in Kabul and is widely despised for his role in the brutal civil war.

His vice-presidential running mates are Fazl ul-Hadi Wazin and Hafiz ul-Rahman Naqi, both ethnic Tajiks who are members of Hezb-e Islami.

Ahmad Wali Massud

Ahmad Wali Massud is the younger brother of Ahmad Shah Masud, the legendary anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance commander who was assassinated by Al-Qaeda two days before September 11. An ethnic Tajik and a prominent member of the Jamiat-e Islami, he served as ambassador to Britain.

Massud, who is 54 years old, has chosen Farida Mohmand, a Pashtun who was a former higher education minister, and Latif Nazari, a Hazara who was educated in Iran and unsuccessfully ran for parliament in 2018, as his vice presidential candidates.

Nur ul-Haq Ulumi

Former General Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, a Pashtun, is a former interior minister.

A former Communist Party member, he was a major figure in the 1980s, when he was a general in the Afghan Army. His running mates are Bashir Bezhan, an ethnic Tajik who is a former journalist who founded a cultural magazine, and Mohammad Naim Ghayur, a former intelligence official hailing from the western city of Herat.

Abdul Latif Pedram

An ethnic Tajik from the northeastern province of Badakhshan, Abdul Latif Pedram heads the National Congress party.

A former lawmaker, he has been accused of being an ethnonationalist. His vice-presidential mates are Ehsanullah Haidari, a Hazara who worked for several international organizations in Kabul; and Mohammad Sadeq Wardak, a Pashtun and former member of the mujahedin.

Nurullah Jalili

A former official in the Taliban regime’s Foreign Ministry, Nurullah Jalili is a wealthy businessman who owns a construction company in Kabul.

His vice presidential candidates are Khalil Roman, an ethnic Tajik communist-era official who served as former President Mohammad Najibullah’s chief of staff; and Cheragh Ali Cheragh, a health official who headed a university in northern Afghanistan.

Faramarz Tamana

Educated in India and Iran, Faramarz Tamana is a former Foreign Ministry official and university lecturer.

His vice presidential candidates are Sayyed Qias Saidi, a Pashtun who worked for UNICEF; and Mohammad Amin Reshadat, a Hazara who is the chancellor of a private university in Kabul.

Hakim Tursan

An ethnic Uzbek, Hakim Tursan was an intelligence official under Soviet-era ruler Najibullah.

He graduated from Kabul University with a degree in Persian literature. His running mates are Nader Shah Ahmadzai, a Pashtun who heads a Kabul-based think tank; and Mohammad Shafi Qaisari, another ethnic Uzbek and former communist.

Mohammad Ibrahim Alekozai

A Pashtun who is a tribal elder in Kandahar, Mohammad Ibrahim Alekozai has chosen Khadija Ghaznawi, a Hazara who owns her own logistics company; and Sayyed Same Kayani, from the minority Shi'ite Ismailis in northern Afghanistan, as his vice presidential candidates.

Ghulam Faruq Nejrabi

An ethnic Tajik, Ghulam Faruq Nejrabi is a surgeon from Kapisa Province. His running mates are Sharifullah and Mohammad Sharif Babakarkhel.

Nur Rahman Liwal

A Pashtun, Nur Rahman Liwal is the owner of a software company in Kabul. His vice presidential candidates are Abdul Hadi Zul-Hekmat and medical doctor Mohammad Yahya Wyar.

Enayatullah Hafiz

A Hazara who has a literature degree, Enayatullah Hafiz’s running mates are Jannat Khan Fahim Chakari, an ex-army officer; and Abdul Jamil Shirani, a former employee of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Mohammad Shahab Hakimi

A Pashtun from the Maidan Wardak Province, Hakimi worked as a university lecturer in Kabul and most recently as the director of the Mine Detection Center. His running mates are Nur ul-Habib Hasir and Abdul Ali Sarabi.

NOTE: An earlier version of this article was published on August 7
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.