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Abdullah: Afghanistan's 'almost' man stays in the game

22 september 2014, 10:49

  Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah believes the title of President of Afghanistan has been stolen from him twice -- but this time he has secured a compromise role which will give him a hand on the tiller, AFP reports.

Abdullah, 54, has wanted revenge since the 2009 election, when he came second to Hamid Karzai in the first-round vote and then pulled out of the run-off, alleging that fraud would be used to fix the result.

This year, he again believes that massive fraud denied him victory in the June 14 run-off election after he finished comfortably ahead of his rival Ashraf Ghani in the first round.

But Sunday's final results confirmed Ghani had won the presidency, hours after Abdullah signed up to a "national unity government".

The price he exacted for accepting defeat was the right to nominate a chief executive officer (CEO) -- effectively a prime minister, who will serve under the president.

A pro-Western, religiously moderate politician, Abdullah has spent recent years building ties with tribal leaders who hold the key to power, as well as staying close to the US and other major donor nations.

Abdullah, who started off as an eye doctor in Kabul, was a member of Burhanuddin Rabbani's government during Afghanistan's 1992-1996 civil war, and made a name for himself abroad for his fluent English and courtly manner.

His formative political experience was as the right-hand man to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the charismatic Tajik commander who led resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and to the 1996-2001 Taliban regime.

Massoud was killed two days before the 9/11 attacks on the United States, leaving Abdullah fearing that the anti-Taliban resistance would collapse.

But the US reaction to the strikes on New York and Washington transformed the landscape overnight, with the Taliban soon ousted and Abdullah emerging as foreign minister in the new government under Karzai.

Abdullah used the post to give early warning to Washington that Taliban leaders ran the growing Afghan insurgency from neighbouring Pakistan -- an issue that was dismissed until it became central to US foreign policy years later.

  Mixed ethnic background 

Born to a Pashtun father and a Tajik mother, Abdullah has long taken a strong stance promoting reconciliation between Tajiks and their traditional rivals the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.

However, due to his closeness to Massoud, much of his core support still comes from Tajik and other Dari-speaking ethnic groups in the north.

He often said that he would refuse to again "swallow the bitter pill" of an unfair defeat, and he insisted until the last moment that he was the rightful president.

"We were the winner of the elections, we are the winner of elections based on the real and clean votes of the people," Abdullah said in a speech two weeks ago, his voice choking with emotion.

"We do not accept fraudulent election results, and we will not accept a fraudulent government for even one day."

Abdullah, a persuasive talker and elegant dresser, is married with three children.

On the campaign trail, he delivered scores of professional -- if dry -- speeches at rallies and meetings, often raising the spectre of electoral fraud.

His double name reportedly emerged to placate Westerners confused by his single moniker "Abdullah".

He may take up the new CEO role himself, but is seen as more likely to nominate a close ally to the key role.

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