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Afghanistan - Bashardost interview

Afghan Mr Clean takes on Karzai ... and everyone else

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-08-17 Latest update 2009-08-19 07:02 TU

Afghan presidential candidate Ramzan Bashardost.(Photo: T. Cross)

Afghan presidential candidate Ramzan Bashardost.
(Photo: T. Cross)

Afghan TV viewers may have been suprised on Sunday evening to see Ramzan Bashardost on their screens debating with President Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, another candidate in 20 August’s presidential election. A member of the Hazara minority, he campaigns from a tent and accuses the powerful of corruption and complicity in war crimes.

In an time where some establishment politicians like to pose as outsiders, Bashardost is the genuine article. He resigned as Karzai’s Planning Minister in disgust at sleaze in the state. He made himself unpopular in many high places by claiming that foreign NGOs were eating up money meant for the Afghan people.

Since then he has campaigned against corruption and the continuing influence of men he says are war criminals, travelling around Kabul on a bike and refusing to use armed bodyguards.

Bashardost fought the 2005 legislative elections from a tent in a park in central Kabul.

For this election he has expanded his property empire. He now has a second tent near the parliament building. That is where I met him.

During the televised debate, Bashardost said that he has a file on the corrupt officials, but  refrained from naming names, in case ‘‘bottles start to fly’’. That was a reference to the uproar that has occured in parliament when a few MPs have taken their fellows to task for alleged crimes.

So will he name names now?

‘‘I have some documents, some proof, a secret report of an independent commissioner against corruption,’’ he says. And he promises to publish it on his website, but not until after the election.

Interview: Afghan presidential candidate Ramzan Bashardost

17/08/2009 by Tony Cross

And if there is a volunteer to translate it into English for free, it will be available to Anglophones, as well, he adds.

Bashardost has continuously lambasted Karzai, accusing the President of appointing warlords to his cabinet and to lead whole provinces.

During the TV debate he made a pointed reference to candidates for the vice-presidency having blood on their hands. Marshall Mohammad Fahim, a former leader of the Northern Alliance which ran Afghanistan after the Soviets left, is often accused of committing atrocities. Could Bashardost have meant him ?

‘‘Not only Marshall Fahim,’’ he says. ‘‘The second Vice-President [Karim Khalili, who is also on Karzai’s ticket], the ministers, the governors. I believe absolutely that the first reason of war in Afghanistan, it is power in the hands of warlords in Afghanistan.’’

Despite the fact that Taliban propaganda slams presence of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, Bashardost says that he is ‘‘absolutely sure’’ that the Taliban only attack international forces because they see them as defending Karzai and his allies.

When a number of French soldiers were killed in one attack last year, he talked to ‘‘some Taliban’’, quickly correcting himself to ‘‘some person from Surubi’’ where the attack took place, and asked why. 

‘‘Because the French soldiers, or American or British soldiers, they are between us and our enemy,’’ the person reportedly said, identifying those enemies as ‘‘the Chief of Police, the Governor, the Vice-President, the Minister … because they killed us, a lot of Taliban prisoners-of-war, when they arrived in power in 2001’’.

Human rights campaigners have demanded an inquiry into alleged massacres of Taliban prisoners when the Northern Alliance, formerly led by Ahmed Shah Masood, took control of the country.

Bashardost claims that another of his rivals in the presidential race, Abdullah Abdullah, bears responsibility for them, along with other commanders such as Uzbek warlord Abdel Rashid Dostam and Fahim, who are now supporting Karzai.

And he is no less angry with the other candidate present at Sunday’s debate, Ashraf Ghani. He says that Ghani was a Taliban spokesperson when they were in power, only to desert them when they lost it, becoming a minister in Karzai’s government.

‘To the Taliban he’s a traitor,’’ says Bashardost.

The Taliban recruits because foreign troops are in Afghanistan, because killers are still in office, because of corruption and because of poverty, Bashardost says. Payments to those who are neglected by the present government win more recruits than ideology, he believes.

So what are Bashardost’s differences with the Taliban?

‘‘The first difference is that I believe in human rights,’’ he says. At the Ministry of Planning, one of his deputies was a woman, as were four out of ten heads of department. A woman is on his ticket as a vice-presidential candidate, he says, adding that this is not the case for his main rivals.

He claims also to have rejected ethnic rivalries and to have spoken to members of Afghanistan’s small Hindu community during the election campaign.

Bashardost is a member of the Hazara minority, who are mostly Shia-Muslims and live mainly in the north and in Kabul. Members of the larger and more infuential Tajik and Pashtun ethnic groups often look down on Hazaras.

What with that and his controversial politics, it was a surprise to see Bashardost running third in the presidential race, according to a poll by the US-based International Republican Institute last week, ahead of Ghani but behind Abdullah and Karzai.

‘‘Fortunately, each Afghan people believe that Bashardost, he’s not Hazara, he’s not Pashtun, he’s not Uzbek, he’s not Tajik, he is Afghan and he prove it and it is my big card in this election,’’ he says, claiming to have been made welome in all provinces by all ethnic groups.

‘It is a miracle that the other candidates give money to voters; the voters, people give me money for my campaign,’’ says Ramzan Bashardost, before heading out to campaign on Kabul’s sweltering, dusty streets again.