On the eve of the election for president of Afghanistan, voters are faced with two very different candidates and the campaigning is a great source of argument among Afghan voters. Unlike in the April 5 election when there were eleven candidates, the two men in the runoff are making fun of each other in their debates, and criticizing one another for uncivil behavior.

Both men, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah, have large numbers of supporters and it is impossible to know which man will win. Ashraf Ghani appeals more to the educated people, while Abdullah Abdullah is supported more by the illiterate or by former jihadi commanders or warlords.

The future of Afghanistan will be very different, depending on which man wins. At home, at the university, at work and even in the street I have had many discussions with people abut the second round of the elections to be held June 14. At the university I hear more people who favor the intellectual Ashraf Ghani. Elsewhere Abdullah Abdullah seems more popular. Some make fun of the way Mr. Ghani speaks; they like to say he is not a Muslim and his wife Rula Ghani is Jewish, although really she is Lebanese Christian. They criticize him for appointing a former communist general, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, as his first vice president.

I’ve heard some people say things like Mr. Ghani is a mental case and an infidel and whoever votes for him will go to hell. Some of these people blame him for anything, even the landslides that killed 2,000 people in the Argo district of Badakhshan because a few days after he went there to campaign in April, the landslides occurred.

I get nowhere with them when I remind them about the civil war in 1992-1996, the crimes committed by Mujahideen warlords back then, or how jihadi groups fighting between each other for power destroyed much of Kabul and killed thousands of people and raped girls and children. Abdullah Abdullah and his supporters say now that they made some mistakes and they want to fix them. But I don’t see how this justifies their acts. I think they are criminals and should be tried for their crimes.

My colleagues who support Abdullah Abdullah believe that if he wins the election, he will bring change and better security and will dismantle the corruption and give women rights according to Islamic Sharia law. For me, that is wishful thinking. These are the people who caused the formation of the Taliban and dragged the country back to fundamentalism. Mr. Abdullah has no clear policy for women.

Policies for Women

I fear that if the international community were not insisting on support for women, Mr. Abdullah would follow a strict fundamentalist Taliban-like policy. We’ve already experienced this, with women in burqas staying home without the right to education.

Mr. Ghani talks a little bit about his policy for women. He has said young girls will no longer be abused or forced into marriage. He has said people committing violence against women would be tried without exception—even if the accused were the son of a minister or a jihadi commander.

If Mr. Ghani wins, it is possible that he can bring equal rights for women because he is well educated and has a decent political record. He did a good job in the ministry of finance in President Karzai’s interim administration.

Overall there are big differences between the two candidates. Some people hate Abdullah Abdullah because they believe his background is full of bloodshed; others hate Mr. Ghani for having a non-Muslim wife and they say he may convert to Christianity.

I believe that if Abdullah Abdullah wins the election, his policy will be a repetition of President Karzai and we will see more corruption, lack of security, a damaged economy, and racism. We experienced Mr. Abdullah Abdullah’s policies when he was Cabinet Minister of foreign affairs during President Karzai’s first term. Now, Abdullah Abdullah’s second vice president, Mohammad Mohaqiq, is a warlord. He was also in President Karzai’s cabinet as Minister of Planning, where corruption was rampant.

Mr. Ghani is not perfect: he is emotional and may be quick to anger. But he is a well educated politician with much knowledge and if he wins he could change the future of Afghanistan and make it a stable and peaceful country. If not, we will continue to witness an unstable Afghanistan.

By Anonymous

Photos of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (by S.K. Vemmer) and Abdullah Abdullah (by Philippe Grangeaud).