The prospect of a peace deal with Taliban insurgents created an atmosphere of uncertainty in the months leading up to Saturday’s presidential election in Afghanistan. Even the 18 candidates for the country’s top job didn’t know whether an election would be held at all.
President Ashraf Ghani stood firm that polls would go ahead, but his campaign was barely visible. It wasn’t until September 7 when U.S. President Donald Trump stunned even his own peace envoy with a tweet saying a peace deal with Taliban insurgents, which only hours before had seemed a certainty, was dead and the presidential election was back on.
But for many of the candidates it seemed too late, and while their names will appear on the ballot, most have dropped out.
The two top contenders for Afghanistan’s top job are long-time rivals Mr. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who were forced by Washington to share power in a so-called Unity Government after the 2014 presidential polls were mired in widespread corruption and fraud, and a winner couldn’t be declared.
Mohammad Ashraf Ghani
Born in central Logar Province on May 19, 1949, Mr. Ghani, who holds a doctorate in Anthropology from Columbia University, first went to the U.S. as a high school exchange student.
Except for a brief teaching stint at Kabul University in the early 1970s, Mr. Ghani lived in the United States, where he was an academic until joining the World Bank as a senior adviser in 1991.
Mr. Ghani first ran for president in 2009, capturing barely a quarter of the votes. He ran again in 2014 in what was considered a deeply flawed and corrupt exercise. Rival Abdullah Abdullah took the most votes in a first round and Mr. Ghani the most in a second. So deeply flawed were the polls that the United States, fearing widespread violence, intervened to cobble together a Unity Government that allowed the two to share power — Mr. Ghani as president and Mr. Abdullah as chief executive.
Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah’s five-year rule as a Unity Government has been a tumultuous one marked by relentless bickering and infighting. Corruption remains rampant.
In Saturday’s election, Mr. Ghani’s vice-presidential candidates are former Afghan National Security Chief Amrullah Saleh and Sarwar Danish.
Born in the Afghan capital of Kabul on September 5, 1960, Abdullah Abdullah joined the anti-communist resistance in Afghanistan shortly after graduating from Kabul University’s Medical School.
Mr. Abdullah served in the mujahedeen government led by Jamiat-e-Islami under the presidency of Buhanuddin Rabbani. During their time in power, the mujahedeen groups turned their guns on each other, destroying large swaths of the capital and killing about 50,000 people, mostly civilians. They were ousted in 1996 by the Taliban.
When the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, Mr. Abdullah served in President Hamid Karzai’s government as foreign minister until 2005.
In 2009, Mr. Abdullah challenged Mr. Karzai for president and lost. He secured 30.5% of the votes.
In the deeply flawed 2014 polls, Mr. Abdullah took 45% of the vote in the first round against his rival Mr. Ghani, who secured 35%. When the second round of voting ended, Mr. Ghani had 55.3% of the vote and Mr. Abdullah 44.7%. Chaos ensued and the U.S. intervened to form a Unity Government.
Mr. Abdullah’s two vice-presidential candidates Saturday are — Enayatullah Babar Farahmand and Sattar Saadati.
Born in northern Kunduz Province on August 1, 1949, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was a U.S.-declared terrorist until he signed a peace agreement with President Ashraf Ghani in late 2016.
For five years, Mr. Hekmatyar lived in Iran while the Taliban ruled, returning to Afghanistan after the insurgent group was overthrown. He fought the U.S.-backed coalition and those former mujahedeen like Mr. Abdullah who had aligned with other mujahedeen groups to become the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban.
Born on June 30, 1968 in Maidan Wardak Province, Mr. Nabil, an engineer, was the deputy director of internal affairs on the National Security Council following the collapse of the Taliban.
Ahmad Wali Masood
Born in the Afghan capital of Kabul on November 1, 1964, Masood is the youngest brother of Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance leader killed in a suicide bombing in September, 2001.
After university study, Masood took up politics under his older brother’s guidance. During the 1992-96 rule of the mujahedeen government, Masood was appointed a diplomat at the Afghan Embassy in London, where he served as ambassador for the Taliban government, which was not recognized internationally.