KABUL, June 11 (Reuters) - Former Afghan planning minister Ramazan Bashardost lives year-round in a tent opposite parliament and is now mounting a campaign for president that many people consider quixotic and hopeless.
But he says he’s not the crazy one. It is his former government colleagues who drive fancy imported cars and live in ostentatious mansions paid for with money intended to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans who he says are truly insane.
"In Afghanistan, values for some people is luxury, corruption and bodyguards. When an MP refuses this kind of life, they say I’m crazy!" Bashardost told Reuters in an interview in his tent on Thursday.
"For this minority you are not crazy if you use a luxury car from the American taxpayers’ money. For these people you are not crazy when you are corrupt. For these people you are crazy when you refuse money," he says, waving both arms in the air.
The charismatic, outspoken Bashardost has modelled himself as a man of the people. He runs his campaign for the Aug. 20 presidential election from his tent because he says it makes him more accessible to the Afghan people.
He briefly served as planning minister under President Hamid Karzai, whom he later fell out with after Bashardost openly criticised the role of aid agencies in the country and tried to shut some 2,000 of them down on charges of corruption.
Bashardost then resigned from cabinet, he says, because he no longer had the support of the president. He says he also came under a lot of pressure from foreign aid agencies and embassies.
Bashardost said Karzai gave him $60,000 to spend on a car for himself when he was appointed planning minister. He gave the money back.
"I said: ’It’s crazy. How can I have a car worth $60,000 when a teacher earns $60?’" Bashardost said. "This is the money of the American taxpayer, the British taxpayer. This is money that should be spent on other things for the country."
"They cannot say anything else about me. They cannot say Mr. Bashardost is corrupt. They cannot say Mr. Bashardost has old values, only that he is crazy," he says, wearing traditional Afghan baggy trousers and shirt, its collar lined with the colours of the Afghan flag.
Bashardost said the reason why the Taliban fought against the government was because it was full of corrupt officials, warlords and criminals. If he became president he would put all those people on trial and the insurgents would in turn lay down their weapons, he said.
"We cannot build a new system with old people. It’s not possible. We cannot build democracy in Afghanistan with the enemy of Afghanistan," Bashardost said.
Bashardost says he used to be close to Karzai but has not spoken to him since resigning from cabinet. But he insists he only disagrees with Karzai’s politics and that the president was not his enemy.
"Karzai’s vision, his philosophy about society, about the state, is a tribal vision," Bashardost said.
Despite a widespread perception that Karzai — who has received endorsements from many of the most powerful leaders in the country — can win easily, Bashardost says he is confident he will oust the president.
"I hope to win in the first round. Absolutely!" he says. "We have another choice in Afghanistan. We have other possibilities. It is time for a change."
(Editing by Peter Graff and Paul Tait)
(Our Nation Deserves Widespread Positive Changes, Security, Reconstruction and Freedom)
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