KABUL, Afghanistan - Although a date has yet to be set for Afghanistan’s presidential election, one candidate is already handing out campaign-style posters and displaying populist slogans on the streets of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Ramazan Bashardost, one of the country’s most outspoken members of parliament, says he’s launched an unofficial campaign against the corruption that is eroding public confidence in the government.
"If I arrived in power, if we make a clean government, a clean state, if we choose a good government, a government that believes in good governance ... I am absolutely sure that 90 per cent of Taliban (will) refuse to continue the war," he said.
It’s a familiar refrain from Bashardost, 44, a former planning minister in President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet who resigned from his job in late 2004 in protest against alleged corruption.
Now an independent MP, Bashardost’s cause celebre is highlighting the lofty amounts paid to foreign and Afghan NGOs and government officials, compared to the paltry incomes of most Afghans.
"The salaries of some advisers, some Afghan high authorities, it is $30,000 a month," he said.
"But the salary of Afghan teacher, Afghan professor, it is $60 a month. The salary of policeman, it is $100. With $100, you cannot have an ordinary life. ...
"So, in this case, you try to be corrupt. You try to have the money in other ways."
Bashardost is one of several high-profile candidates who are testing the waters for a run at the presidency.
Besides Bashardost and Karzai, other rumoured candidates are former interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalai and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who has been endorsed by the National Association of Afghanistan, an umbrella group of several political parties, associations and prominent Afghans.
However, Bashardost is the only candidate openly campaigning, although he insists he’s not officially running.
Under Afghanistan’s electoral laws, campaigning can only be done in the 30 days before election day, and it is prohibited 48 hours before polls open.
Bashardost usually meets people inside a tiny tent erected by the side of the road that runs in front of Afghanistan’s parliament buildings. However, he spoke with The Canadian Press in a heavily-guarded compound a few minutes down the road from his tent.
The only decoration in the otherwise barren, white-walled room is an Afghan flag pinned to the wall behind him.
He speaks English deliberately and gives examples after every point he makes. He often ends his words with a "zee" sound, a mannerism he developed over two decades of living in France, where he earned a doctorate in law, after fleeing Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded.
He is particularly critical of warlords and former mujahedeen who hold powerful posts in the government.
"The Taliban refuse to accept that the men in power who killed a lot of Taliban ... are now in Afghan ministries, in Afghan provinces, in Afghan parliament," he said.
"They are the chiefs of mujahedeen, the chiefs of communists, they are the old enemy of Taliban in power."
Warlords or their allies, who dominated Afghan politics for more than a decade, were strongly represented in Karzai’s first cabinet. A dominant faction of Tajiks from the Panjshir valley and other warlords held much political and military clout around the cabinet table.
Many Panjshiri Tajiks were mujahedeen fighters who kept the Soviets from ever controlling the valley, which is nestled in the Hindu Kush mountain range north of Kabul.
Months after winning Afghanistan’s presidential election in October 2004, Karzai ousted most of the warlords from power in a cabinet shuffle that elevated more technocrats and women to key government posts.
Still, some mujahedeen remain in cabinet. Mohammad Ismail Khan, the minister of energy and water, is a powerful warlord from the western province of Herat, where he served as governor until Karzai removed him from the post in the autumn of 2004.
Bashardost is also critical of the recent appointment to Karzai’s cabinet of the former governor of Kandahar.
Corruption and torture allegations mired much of Asadullah Khalid’s gubernatorial tenure. Now the minister of borders and tribal affairs, Khalid was among the Afghan officials alleged to have participated in torture of detainees, although he vehemently denied the accusation.
Canada’s former foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier, caused a diplomatic stir last spring by inadvertently calling on Karzai to oust Khalid to deal with the corruption plaguing the southern Afghan province.
Karzai eventually replaced Khalid with former Afghan army general Rahmatullah Raufi. But Raufi lasted mere months before he was replaced by Afghan-Canadian academic Tooryalai Wesa, a childhood friend of Karzai’s.