Abdullah Abdullah was one of three members of the Northern Alliance's Shura-e Nazar faction from Panjsher Province who obtained a powerful cabinet post through the Bonn accords of late 2001. The others -- former Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni and former Defense Minister Qasim Fahim -- also used their de facto control of Kabul at the time of the Bonn meeting to negotiate for ministry posts. The triumvirate of Fahim as defense minister, Qanuni as interior minister, and Abdullah as the foreign minister was -- in the beginning -- representive of the three main factions of Shura-e Nazar.
Much of Abdullah's power base was a result of his association with the late Ahmad Shah Mas'ud -- the iconic leader of Shura-e Nazar who had fought against both the Soviets and the Taliban until he was assassinated by suspected Al-Qaeda operatives two days before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. His real power base is very weak. He was not considered as one of the most powerful members of the Shura-e Nazar.
Although Dr. Abdullah Abdullah rose from virtually nothing to prominence during the 2009 presidential elections, he has since noticeably faded from the Afghan political scene. Abdullah entered the presidential election against Karzai with limited name recognition, a reputation as an elitist whose family resides in India, and as a pro-Panjshiri Tajik -- all of which restricted his ability to run a strong national campaign.
Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah registered his campaign for the presidential election 06 May 2009, signing up with two relatively unknown running mates - evidence that he had failed to attract support outside the splintering United Front opposition coalition. Abdullah joined the race today after extensive negotiations with other opposition leaders and possible running mates broke down. At various points, Abdullah appeared close to signing pacts with Hazara leader Haji Mohammed Mohaqqeq, Junbesh leader Sayed Noorullah, and a number of second-tier Pashtun politicians. In the end, all the deals fell through. Likewise, Abdullah was unable to convince potential candidates Ashraf Ghani, Anwarulhaq Ahadi, Ali Ahmed Jalali, and Mirwais Yaseni to merge their campaigns with Abdullah at the top of a unity ticket.
Several political observers believe a growing lack of confidence in Abdullah's ability to win cost him potential allies, many of which have re-opened dialogues with Karzai's campaign. Other politicians suggested that Abdullah's association with the United Front had been a major barrier to attract support from outside groups. Lower House MP Fazel Karim Aimaq, an occasional member of the UF's central committee, pronounced the UF "dead" upon news of Abdullah's underwhelming slate and predicted several UF members would defect to other campaigns rather than associate with Abdullah's candidacy.
Abdullah's choices for running mates came as a surprise, both for their relative obscurity and because neither name had surfaced among the dozens of rumored candidates. Abdullah chose Humayoun Shah Asifi to be his first vice presidential running mate. Asifi, a Pashtun, is an in-law of late king Zahir Shah. Asifi ran for president in 2004 and received 0.3 percent of the vote. Kidnappers took Asifi hostage for several weeks last year before Afghan security forces freed him. Former Kabul University Chancellor Cheragh Ali Cheragh, a Hazara, is Abdullah's choice for second vice president. One Embassy local employee reported that Kabul University students heavily disliked Cheragh during his tenure as chancellor for his ill temper and apparent bias toward Hazaras.
In the 2009 presidential race, Abdullah hoped to retain the support of the northern Tajik communities that supplied the majority of votes for Qanooni's runner-up placing in 2004. Qanooni received 16 percent of the national popular vote and finished first in seven provinces. Abdullah, however, was hampered by his failure to recruit well-known running mates from other ethnic groups to broaden his appeal. His choices of royalist Humayoun Shah Asifi and academic Cheragh Ali Cheragh checked the Pashtun and Hazara boxes, respectively, but did not bring high name recognition or political weight. Abdullah seemed poised to be hard pressed to improve Qanooni's 2004 performance absent a successful mid-campaign effort to consolidate support from other campaigns and opposition leaders, and perhaps swap out one or both vice presidential nominees for more influential figures.
Apart from Karzai, four candidates garnered more than one percent of the vote as announced by the Independent Electoral Commission, with Abdullah Abdullah at 30.59 percent, Ramazan Bashardost at 10.46 percent, Ashraf Ghani at 2.94 percent and Mirwais Yasini at 1.03 percent. After a contentious and fraud-marred election, Karzai conceded the need for a second round because his vote total was less than 50 percent of the valid votes cast. President Karzai accepted - grudgingly - that nearly a million of his initial votes had to be thrown out as fraudulent. Nonetheless, he has never publicly apologized or disassociated himself from those who committed fraud on his behalf. Abdullah, the closest presidential challenger, withdrew November 1 from the second round of elections.
Abdullah rose to prominence during the campaigns, proving himself as a rational leader, and in particular, astutely managing his international image and campaign. Although Abdullah lost the presidential election, he had won political space and made history.
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