Since the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, Afghanistan has held three rounds of presidential elections, each with their own share of problems—fraud, ballot stuffing, lack of institutions, proper electoral laws, and security, to name a few. In 2004, President Hamid Karzai finished well ahead of his rival, then Minister of Education and now President Karzai’s Deputy Muhammad Yunus Qanooni, with 55.4 percent of the vote. Mr. Qanooni rejected the results, accusing the Karzai team of fraud. Then, in the 2009 presidential election, known as the most contentious election, incumbent Hamid Karzai was declared the winner for another term in office after canceling the second round of voting. Karzai’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah alleged “widespread rigging” by the Karzai campaign and the Independent Election Commission.
Before he fled the country in 1975, ahead of the Soviet invasion, Nasir Shansab was Afghanistan’s leading industrialist. After a short period in Europe, he finally settled in the United States, where he was granted political asylum. It was not his first time in exile. In the early 1950s his family had sought refuge in Germany after his father, the minister for agriculture, publicly criticized the Afghan government in an underground communist paper. He was only 11 at the time.
On April 5, 2014, 11 million citizens are eligible to vote in Afghanistan’s third presidential election—arguably the country’s most important election since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. One thing is certain: the next elected president will not be current president Hamid Karzai, who is unable to run due to term limits. Karzai won the previous two elections (amidst alleged voting fraud in 2009) after being appointed by the National Assembly in December 2001. The presidential and vice presidential candidates at the forefront include an ophthalmologist, a former World Bank advisor, a former foreign minister, and several ex-jihadi warlords.
The etymology of the word Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, is derived from the Persian Badkube, meaning “city where the wind blows,” probably because gale-force and yearlong winds lash the city unrelentingly.
Reflecting on his time in Afghanistan as the head of the UN mission in 2006 and 2007, Tom Koenigs, writes in his book, Machen wir Frieden oder haben wir Krieg (“Are We Making Peace or Do We Have a War”), “If people would want to know what I think I have done right in the last two years and what I have done wrong, what has been improved, or if it was worthwhile, these are all questions to which, if I am entirely honest, I know no answers.”
With the victory of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the election of Nawaz Sharif for an unprecedented third term as prime minister in May 2013, it seemed as though Pakistan was about to usher in a new era. Sharif had been prime minister in the 1990s, but he was famously ousted in a 1999 coup d’etat, led by the military under General Musharraf, and exiled to Saudi Arabia.
NATO’s scheduled withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014 has some people worried the country will sink back into the political and economic disorder that blighted the country after the Soviets withdrew in 1989. Others, more hopeful, feel the nation can survive the pullout and gradually become stronger and self-sufficient. Either scenario, it seems, could play out with equal likelihood, but several factors could tip the balance in one direction or the other.
When it comes to profiling Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani, most analysts have been cautious about his seemingly moderate ideology.
Rouhani has been close to Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian leadership throughout his political career for a number of reasons, but none so obvious than the fact that he has been there since the beginning. Rouhani was an active part of the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah, and was arrested in 1964 and again in 1977 for revolutionary activity. He was good friends with Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1960s after meeting on a train, and they worked closely together in Paris during the critical early days of the revolution. Rouhani's most important role in politics came right after the revolution, when he was elected MP in 1980 and then Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Iran from 1992 to 2000. During the presidency of then centrist, now reformist President Rafsanjani in 1989, Rouhani was appointed the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, which meant that he designed Iranian defense policies; this would set him up for his later role as chief nuclear negotiator. He left these positions following the election of President Ahmadinejad in 2005.
Four years ago, Iranians poured into the streets chanting, “where is my vote?” Last week, they poured into the streets chanting, “we took back our votes.” And many, more emotionally, chanted, “Mousavi, Mousavi, we took back your vote”.
Watching the outpouring of joy, it occurred to me that in Iran, people do not “vote.” A “vote” has a clear meaning. It is a decision that just gets counted. It is the decision.
In Iran, people “input.” Every four years, they go to the polls, and give input into the government’s black box. The government receives that input, considers it, evaluates its own strength, its sense of self confidence at that moment, and an output comes out of its black box.
Pakistan has been bombarded by wars and political unease for years, but the country has made headlines around the world recently for its first ever transition from one democratic regime to another. In the wake of the elections, Alex Thier, former Assistant to the Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and now the agency’s Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning, discussing governance opportunities and challenges for the incoming Pakistani administration, made three critical points about Pakistan and its future.
Pakistan remains dramatically short of reaching its potential.
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