By: Caryn Tamber
Many news junkies will be keeping an eye on Afghanistan’s national elections Thursday, but for Mike Smith, it’s different.
Smith, a Gordon Feinblatt employment lawyer, has met three of the major candidates–incumbent Hamid Karzai and challengers Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah–and counts Ghani as a close friend. As I wrote last year, Smith has done a lot of pro bono work on Afghanistan issues, including working with a group proposing a new labor and employment code for the country, working to get the post-invasion Afghan government dismissed from a lawsuit filed by families of 9/11 attack victims and aimed at the pre-invasion Taliban government, representing Afghan Guantánamo Bay detainees and arranging a partnership between Kabul University and his alma mater, Colgate University.
Smith is rooting for long-shot Ghani, a former finance minister in Afghanistan, to win the election.
“I think he’s what the doctor [ordered] for Afghanistan, frankly, but people vote the way they vote,” Smith said.
Smith said there were high hopes for Karzai when he took office in 2004. He surrounded himself with competent, honest people. But over the past five years, many of those people have left, and Karzai has tolerated an extraordinary amount of corruption. Karzai is still seen as the front-runner in the election.
Smith said he believes Karzai’s support comes from four camps: people who believe in Karzai, those who have benefitted from the corruption in his administration, those who are following their local warlord’s voting instructions and those practicing “aggressive apathy” by sticking with the status quo.
The American-educated Ghani would focus on ending corruption, training Afghan troops and decreasing unemployment, on the theory that young men are joining the Taliban fighters not for ideological reasons but because it’s a paying job, Smith said.Smith said Abdullah, a former foreign minister, would be a decent second choice if Ghani does not win. Abdullah is expected toget the second-highest number of votes.
“I think Abdullah Abdullah would not be a horrific choice,” he said.
Media outlets have reported that even if, as expected, Karzai gets more votes than any other candidate, he may not win the more than 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff election with his closest challenger. That, Smith guessed, is Karzai’s worst nightmare.
It is possible that even if Karzai wins reelection, he will appoint Ghani as a sort of chief executive.