View from Kabul

Tufts alumnus Fazal Karim Najimi, a onetime presidential candidate in Afghanistan, says his country can overcome its past, but it won’t be easy
Fazal Karim Najimi with crowd of Afghan men
“After going through the 36 years of conflicts, Afghanistan now needs to focus heavily on finding solutions to its domestic problems,” says Fazal Karim Najimi, seen here at center. Photo: Courtesy of Fazal Karim Najimi
July 1, 2014

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If Afghanistan’s current presidential election continues to be controversial, the result could be a government without the credibility it needs to succeed, says Fazal Karim Najimi, F03, N03, an Afghan citizen who was a candidate early in the election process.

“The reason I decided to run for the president’s office was to offer an alternative to some other candidates who were either warlords or corrupt,” says Najimi, who has worked with non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies in Afghanistan and the region for 20 years. “The best hope for Afghanistan is an inclusive presidency, free of corruption, and one that can be respected within the nation and across the global community.”

His candidacy was derailed by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), which also disqualified 16 other candidates from the original 27 early in the race. Najimi says he was taken out of the running for unjustifiable reasons based on Afghani President Hamid Karzai’s personal pre-selection criteria.

Fazal Karim NajimiAfghanistan’s three-pronged election process has been beset by violence and suspected fraud since it began in September 2013. By the first round of elections on April 4, the slate had dwindled to eight names. As long predicted, the front runners, Abdullah Abdullah (with 45 percent of the vote) and Ashraf Ghani (with 32 percent of the vote), won in April and competed in a final runoff on June 14.

A preliminary result of the runoff was to be announced on July 2, but the vote count has been slowed while Abdullah’s accusations that the IEC fixed the elections are investigated. Karzai has asked the United Nations to mediate.

“A presidency tainted by the election process or by its choice of vice presidents is the last thing Afghanistan needs [if it seeks] to establish stability and credibility,” Najimi says. Under the Afghan system, each presidential candidate names two vice presidents. Their reputation in the country is important, Najimi says.

“The candidate who is everyone’s hope, Ashraf Ghani, chose a warlord, Abdul Rashid Dustom, as one of his vice presidents,” he says. “This was a turning point for me when I decided to run. I saw my country needed a clean option. I chose my vice presidents from among ordinary Afghans who are connected with average people.” This, he says, would have given his administration a strong foundation. Nevertheless, Dustom apologized to the Afghan nation officially for his part in the country’s civil war that killed thousands of civilians in the 1980s and 1990s when he was named as a vice president. “Others don’t have even the courage to acknowledge their part in the conflict,” Najimi says.

Karzai’s government is weak, Najimi says, because he chose vice presidents who constantly challenge his decisions. This has contributed to Afghanistan’s vulnerability to insurgency and diminished its position as a player in regional politics, Najimi says.

Most recently, Najimi was country representative for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. He provided information about food security problems to decision makers in Afghanistan and central Asia; the goal of the network is to prevent famine and acute food insecurity. Najimi, who holds a master’s in humanitarian assistance, a joint degree of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Fletcher School, says he often relies on his Tufts education to sort out many of the complexities of his work.

The impact of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by 2017 could be minimal, he notes, but only if the election ends well and if the United States and the rest of the international community fulfill their pledges to continue providing development and military aid until 2024. “If either of those does not happen, then Afghanistan would have a tough time maintaining security and stability and would become a headache for the international community.”

Afghanistan is a complex place, but the Afghans can tackle the Taliban insurgency and maintain security with the capacity the government has built over the past 13 years, Najimi says.

“But there is always the question of how regional and global politics will affect internal politics,” he adds. “After going through the 36 years of conflicts, Afghanistan now needs to focus heavily on finding solutions to its domestic problems. We are in a position to do just that—but there are no guarantees.”

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.

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