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Ghani re-elected, setting up negotiations to end war with Taliban

18 Feb 2020 Salaam Times

KABUL -- Ashraf Ghani has secured a second term as president of Afghanistan, according to final results announced on Tuesday (February 18), lining him up to become the man negotiating with the Taliban over the country's future.

The results came almost five months after a poll last September 28 and later a recount.

Hawa Alam Nuristani, the election commission chief, said Ghani had taken 50.64% of the votes, compared with Abdullah Abdullah's 39.52%.

"May God help him in serving the people of Afghanistan... I also pray that peace comes to our country," she added at a news conference in Kabul.

However, Abdullah's team was quick to dismiss the final tally and said it had "many options" regarding the next steps.

Abdullah lost to Ghani in 2014 in a divisive election that saw his supporters hold violent demonstrations before the United States finally intervened to broker a power-sharing deal between the two rivals.

A possible deal

The final results come just as Washington seeks a deal with the Taliban that would allow it to withdraw troops in return for various security guarantees and a promise that the militants would hold peace talks with the Afghan government.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed a wish to get troops home from America's longest war.

Washington's peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Monday (February 17) that he was "cautiously optimistic" about progress toward an eventual deal, adding that the United States has "commitments from the Talibs on security issues".

Once the deal is reached, the Afghan government under Ghani would have to prepare to meet the Taliban and negotiate a formal peace agreement on behalf of the Afghan people.

Political analyst Atta Noori called the results "a step forward towards the possible talks with the Taliban".

"A shaky government was in no position to talk with the Taliban. Now is the time for Ghani to act as a statesman and form an inclusive team to talk with the Taliban," he told AFP, adding that members of Abdullah's camp should be among the negotiators.

Almost 1 million of the initial 2.7 million votes were purged owing to irregularities, meaning the election saw by far the lowest turnout of any Afghan poll.

Ultimately, only 1.8 million votes were counted. Afghanistan has an estimated population of 35 million and 9.6 million registered voters.

Ghani's ascent

Here is a look at his life and career:

Ghani, 70, is an anthropologist, academic and a former employee of the World Bank who left Afghanistan in 1977 and returned about two decades later.

He studied at Columbia University in New York and taught at several US universities during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In late 2001, after the Taliban were ousted by a United States-led invasion, Ghani moved back to Kabul as a senior United Nations special adviser, going on to become a key architect of the interim government.

He became a powerful finance minister under President Hamid Karzai from 2002 to 2004, campaigning against burgeoning corruption.

Renowned for his intensity and energy, Ghani introduced a new currency, set up a tax system, encouraged wealthy expat Afghans to return home, and cajoled donors as the country emerged from the austere Taliban era.

Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, was a candidate for the 2014 presidential election, with Uzbek warlord Dostum as his first vice president and Sarwar Danish, a Hazara, as his second deputy.

Ghani lit up the campaign trail with a series of fiery speeches, and he did better than many expected in the first round by taking 31.6% of the vote to the 45% of his rival Abdullah Abdullah, forcing the election to a second round.

Ghani emerged in the run-off as an easy victor with 55% to Abdullah's 45%.

Preliminary results in the 2019 vote -- released in December -- showed he had won again, but Abdullah swiftly alleged vote-rigging, forcing a recount.

Ghani is married to Rula, whom he met while studying for his first degree at the American University in Lebanon, and has two children.

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