Ashraf Ghani’s family and the tense situation in Afghanistan

by fpman

Here’s a whole new aspect to the story of kinship ties in politics which we’re covering on this blog.

In case you have not been following what’s been going on, or down, in Afghanistan, there is a situation there. A post-election situation, a case of contested results. The two leading presidential candidates are Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. I could provide here a brief introduction to Afghan politics, but instead I’ll just say one’s a Pashtun (Ghani) and the other is not (Abdullah Abdullah). And while AA won in the first round (non-decisively, getting only 45% of the vote), the second seems to have been taken by Ghani.

The “turnaround” (or what is perceived as such) could produce some tension in any country, probably, but add to this our general notion of how easy it is to conduct completely free and fair elections in Afghanistan, without fraud anywhere. It is hard, so losing is not easy to stomach — not only for the losing candidate but to his camp, too. And while the faultline between the opposing camps is not an ethnic faultline, there is a bit of a Pashtun v. non-Pashtun dimension to this, making it worse.

US Secretary of State John Kerry managed to broker a deal between the two sides in July — a vote recount, mutual acceptance of the results of the recount in advance, and a promise… to be gentle afterwards in forming a government of national unity of some kind (though the two candidates differ on what that exactly means).

kerry-afghan-electionsCelebration: Kerry (left), Ghani (middle), Abdullah Abdullah (right) — source: AP

Not everyone among their supporters is taking it kindly, though, and tension continues to simmer.

A case in point is Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful non-Pashtun politician, longtime governor of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan. Besides promising not to accept “a one-sided recount,” he was also happy to specify what kind of uprising would follow in such an eventuality:

“I say uprising against the one who arrives through fraud, against the one winning by corrupted votes – uprising against the one who doesn’t know about religion and whose children and wife are not Afghans.”

“The one” he is referring to is Ashraf Ghani, of course. Between 1977 (when he went to the US to study at Columbia where he went on to earn a PhD) and 2001 (when the Taliban were ousted from power, after 9/11), Ghani did not return to Afghanistan. First because of the Communists, then because of the civil war that followed, and then because of the Taliban’s rule. This is reason enough for many in Afghan politics nowadays to attack him.

Actually, it has become a bit of a tradition to refer to those public figures who have returned to Afghanistan after 2001 as “dog-washers.” Atta Mohammad Noor at least didn’t say “uprising against the one who is a dog-washer” so there is still hope that this can be handled in a civilised manner. But he did say a few rude things about Ghani’s family, using that to try and discredit him.

Ghani met his wife in Lebanon. Her name is Rula, she is Arab, and she is from a Christian family.

Supporters and opposers go out of their way to make something of that. One side says Rula converted to Islam. A commenter here remarks that in his view, Rula “can challenge you in a test on Islam and she will obliterate you.” The other side keeps claiming that Ashraf Ghani is going to church with Rula when outside Afghanistan. On various Afghan discussion forums, the conspiracy mill is in overdrive spreading all kinds of sh*t about her, including that she is the agent of a Judeo-Christian plot to convert Afghan women to Christianity.

So yeah, that reference to Ghani’s wife did have some malevolent undertones.

But hey, Afghanistan’s got plenty of other problems, too. No reason to be overly concerned with this one.