Afghans To Decide Successor To Karzai On Saturday

Renee Montagne talks to Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan presidential frontrunner. Abdullah faces a runoff with Ashraf Ghani to determine who will succeed embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Voters in Afghanistan will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai in a runoff election tomorrow. The frontrunner is a man who's lived through the turmoil of the past three decades there. As a young doctor, Abdullah Abdullah joined the resistance to the Soviet occupation and then to the Taliban. After 9/11, he served as foreign minister. Abdullah has been holding big, boisterous rallies around the country. When we reached him at his home in Kabul, I ask him about the darker side of campaigning in Afghanistan. Last Friday, a suicide bomber attacked his convoy, killing several of his bodyguards.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: That in itself shows the vulnerability of the environment, but we didn't stop our campaigns afterwards. Five minutes from that attack, I was in the next meeting, and then we continued. And then it continued. So these things were not able to stop us or support us from attending the rallies.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you - when I was there in Afghanistan in April for the first round election, people told me after the vote that there had been 7 million votes, of course for their favorite candidates, but also against the Taliban. There was an elation after the vote that the people had spoken. Do you think when this election, when it is finally over, will actually strengthen the hand of the Afghan government and the next president in dealing with the Taliban?

ABDULLAH: There's no doubt that it will legitimize the system, and the future Afghan government will be in a stronger position in dealing with issues of the Taliban. And then, of course, that is the clarity of the message to the Taliban that we want to talk, we want to make peace, but at the same time, we are here to protect the rights of our citizens and the achievements of our people. So in the past, the clarity of the message has not been there, and that has been damaging.

MONTAGNE: If the Afghan people elect you president on Saturday, what is the very first thing you will do?

ABDULLAH: From the first minute, there will be a new spirit towards our own people as well as towards our partners - as well as towards the countries of the region because it's in that atmosphere of cooperation that we will be able to deal with the challenges that we are faced with, which will not go away overnight or in the first few months.

It will require concerted efforts and a very clear vision; so to start getting things right and send the right messages and then follow through, rather than saying it in words and not doing anything about it afterwards in terms of rule of law, in terms of governments, in terms of fighting against corruption and security and economic challenges.

MONTAGNE: Well, in my hearing, you write to say that you would offer as president more follow-through than the previous president, President Karzai?

ABDULLAH: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: Well, Dr. Abdullah, as you know, the release of five high-ranking Taliban in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been very controversial in America. What is the reaction there, and what is your reaction to this release?

ABDULLAH: The release took place in the midst of campaign rallies here and lots of elections-related issues. So it didn't attract much attention, to be fair. But at the same time, as far as our view was concerned, our prime concern is that they should not return back to the battle field.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Abdullah, thank you very much for joining us.

ABDULLAH: Thank you.

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