Afghanistan AfghanistanAsiaMiddle East Jean MacKenzie on May 30, 2010 @ 12:43 PMMay 30, 2010 @ 12:43 PM Last Updated Feb 4, 2009 @ 6:44 PM PublishedAfghanistan's presidential contendersAfghanistan will elect a new president in August 2009. The Afghan Constitution states that the president:must be a citizen of Afghanistan, a Muslim and born of Afghan parents, and he or she should not have citizenship of another country;on the day of becoming a candidate, should not be younger than 40; andshould not have been convicted of crimes against humanity, a criminal act, or deprivation of civil rights by a court.The Main Contenders:Ali Ahmad Jalali, who served as Afghanistan’s interior minister from 2003 to 2005, and now lectures at the U.S. Naval Defense University. Jalali, who quit the Interior Ministry in what many observers saw as a dispute over corruption and patronage, enjoys a reputation for strength and probity among Afghans. He even has a Facebook following. Born in 1940, he is the oldest of the major contenders, but this is not necessarily a drawback in a country that reveres its elders. Jalali lived and worked in the United States for more than two decades, returning to Afghanistan in 2003 to take up his position in the Interior Ministry. At present he is the front runner; one Western diplomat who has been very active in election preparations said, when pressed, “I think Jalali will win.”Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister, currently chancellor of Kabul University and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. Ashraf Ghani has been a prominent and highly respected figure in Afghan politics since his term as finance minister, 2002 to 2004, when he set up the country’s monetary system. He was widely seen as a strong contender for the top position, both in Afghanistan and in international circles, but his battle with stomach cancer seemed to take him out of the running. In a recent interview with CNN, Ashraf Ghani said he was “seriously considering” running for president, and he looked fit and ready. His distinguished resume includes a Ph.D. from Columbia University, stints at the World Bank, and numerous publications, including “Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World,” which he wrote with close associate Clare Lockhart. Ashraf Ghani reportedly enjoys excellent relations with many in Washington’s power elite, including Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He, too, is listed on Facebook.Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, to Iraq, and, most recently, to the United Nations. During his tenure in Kabul, Khalilzad was known as the “Viceroy” for the extraordinary degree of influence he held over the Afghan president. Afghans would joke that Khalilzad was the “real” president of Afghanistan. Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who was seen as a Rumsfeld protege at the Department of Defense, may be contemplating a return to his homeland. Rumors of his candidacy for Afghanistan’s top spot have been circulating for months, and he has steadfastly denied them all, but with a degree of coyness that leaves room for doubt. Here’s his Facebook group.Hanif Atmar, Afghan minister of the interior, former minister of education and minister of rural rehabilitation and development. The British-educated Atmar has figured prominently in Afghan politics since 2002, when he took over MRRD. Born in 1968, Atmar barely makes the 40-year-old age cutoff for candidacy, but he has a reputation as a strong leader, and, according to insiders at the Interior Ministry, enjoys the firm support of the British. He also received a visit from then-Vice President-Elect Joe Biden in early January, giving rise to speculation that the United States may be throwing some influence his way.Gul Agha Sherzai, governor of Nangahar, enjoys a reputation for ruthless efficiency, and is credited with cleaning out Nanagahr’s poppy crop. But he cannot escape the tales of brutality and corruption that have dogged him since his first tour as governor of Kandahar in the early 1990s. Afghans and foreign observers alike were mystified when Obama sought him out during a brief visit to Afghanistan in July 2008, meeting with Sherzai even before seeing Karzai. Sherzai makes an unlikely presidential figure, but could parlay his influence into a major ministerial post, such as interior or security.Abdullah Abdullah was Karzai’s foreign minister from 2001 to 2006, and was a prominent figure in the Northern Alliance, the loose agglomeration of military commanders who battled the Taliban. He was close to the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud, which alone would disqualify him in the eyes of many of the country’s Pashtuns. While the international community has enthusiastically joined with the remnants of the Northern Alliance in elevating Massoud to hero status, many Pashtuns see the Tajik commander as little more than another of the country’s warlords, who brought ruin upon the country. Ramazan Bashar Dost, a fiery parliamentarian, has already begun handing out fliers advertising his candidacy. The former minister of planning is something of an eccentric, and ran his earlier presidential and parliamentary bids from a tent pitched in a central Kabul park. He has also made a career out of excoriating foreigners for inefficiency and corruption, which has endeared him to his fellow countrymen but has not earned him many friends abroad. A strong showing might elevate him from his current obscurity, but he is unlikely to become a major contender. He is from the Hazara minority, which could make it difficult for him to gather widespread support among the majority Pashtuns in a country where ethnic divisions all too often are mirrored in political groupings.