Abdullah Abdullah

By Steve Coll Some of my thoughts on the Afghan presidential election are up over at my New Yorker blog. Like Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah earned the credibility he enjoys among Afghans (hardly universal or complete, but substantial nonetheless) because he worked for the country and for the northern militias grouped around the late Ahmed ...

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577771_091102_abdullah22.jpg


By Steve Coll

Some of my thoughts on the Afghan presidential election are up over at my New Yorker blog.

Like Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah earned the credibility he enjoys among Afghans (hardly universal or complete, but substantial nonetheless) because he worked for the country and for the northern militias grouped around the late Ahmed Shah Massoud during the miserable, isolated years of Taliban rule. I’ve always found him to be measured, dignified, and elusive.

Those were certainly characteristics present in his comments about his decision to withdraw from the election yesterday. (Karzai has now been declared the winner and Afghans will be spared the security risks of a cosmetic voting exercise.) Many lesser politicians would have handled themselves less responsibly than Abdullah in such circumstances. He has ample reason to resent Karzai; he was forced from Karzai’s cabinet a few years back in less than happy circumstances, only to have Karzai or his team try to steal the presidential election—unnecessarily, and thuggishly. No doubt this personal history had some influence on Abdullah’s decision to foil the satisfaction of an outright Karzai election victory by employing complaints about fraud to withdraw from participation. But a better explanation lies in an analysis of Abdullah’s interests and current negotiating position. He has long sought constitutional reforms to strengthen parliament over the presidency. He is almost certainly interested in rejoining the government, with some of his allies, if the deal is attractive enough. He retains ambitions and wishes to remain a viable national figure in a post-Karzai Afghanistan. He will be in a stronger position to negotiate toward all of these goals by adopting the posture he announced yesterday than he would have been if he had participated in the runoff and been defeated. Rather than a confirmed election loser, Abdullah now presents himself to the international community and the Karzai government as a problem to be solved—a responsible, reasonable problem, open to constructive negotiations that will address his interests and concerns.

To read the rest, visit Think Tank.

Steve Coll is the president of the New America Foundation and a staff writer at The
New Yorker.

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Steve Coll is president of the New America Foundation and the author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens. This article is adapted from his recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives and posted here with permission.
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