by Abdullah Qazi on March 29, 2010
updated by S. Ghilzai on October 21, 2015
last updated by Abdullah Qazi on September 02, 2020
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (عبدالله عبدالله) is a major political figure in Afghanistan today. Abdullah was involved in the resistance against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, a candidate in the 2009, 2014, and 2019 Afghan presidential elections, and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Afghanistan from September 29 2014 to March 11, 2020. He currently serves as the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation. As the Chairman, he is expected to lead the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban.
Abdullah was born on September 5, 1960 in Kabul’s Kart-e Parwan neighborhood. He comes from a devout Muslim family. His father, Ghulam Mahyyoddin Zmaryalay, was an ethnic Pashtun from Kandahar province who served as a senator during the final years of the rule of King Mohammad Zahir. His mother was an ethnic Tajik from Panjshir province. In Afghanistan, tribal or ethnic affiliation is usually associated with the father. However, he is perceived as a Tajik (mosty by Pashtuns) because of his close association and support for Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was a Tajik and is viewed as leading a Tajik dominated mujaheddin group against the Soviet Union, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Taliban.
Abdullah has seven sisters and two brothers. He is married and has four children – three daughters and a son.
Early Life and Education
Abdullah spent his early years living in Kabul and Panjshir. For his elementary (primary) education, he attended Ghazi Mohammad Ayub Khan School, and then went on to attend Naderia High School in Kabul. After graduating from Naderia High School in 1976, Abdullah went on to study ophthalmology at Kabul University’s Department of Medicine,
In 1983, Abdullah graduated from Kabul University’s Department of Medicine with an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) degree. He then served as a specialist at the Noor Eye Hospital in Kabul.
In 1984, as the Soviet Union expanded its occupation of Afghanistan, Abdullah left Afghanistan to go work as an ophthalmologist, and care for Afghan refugee families at the Sayed Jamaluddin Hospital in Pakistan. A year later, he joined the mujaheddin resistance against the Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. He became in charge of the health affairs for the Panjshir Valley resistance front. From there, in 1986, Abdullah became a special advisor and close companion or chief assistant to Ahmad Shah Massoud, until Massoud took control of Kabul from Najibullah Ahmadzai’s government on April 15, 1992.
Islamic State of Afghanistan
In 1992, after the mujaheddin took control of Kabul from Najibullah Ahmadzai’s government, Abdullah became the chief of staff and spokesperson for the Defense Ministry of the newly established Islamic State of Afghanistan.
When the Taliban captured Kabul on September 27, 1996, Abdullah left for the north with Massoud. Soon after, a multi-ethnic coalition was created to fight against the Taliban . The coalition was officially called the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (incorrectly referred to as the Northern Alliance by western media).
During this time, Abdullah served as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Afghan government-in-exile, which was officially recognized by the United Nations, and all other countries, except for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates supported and officially recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
In 1998, Abdullah became Afghanistan’s (government-in-exile) Foreign Minister. He served in that role until the removal of the Taliban from power in late 2001.
In March 2001, Abdullah traveled with Ahmad Shah Massoud to Brussels, where Massoud addressed the European Parliament warning the world about the dangers of the Taliban regime, and how they are supported by Pakistan and Al Qaeda (Osama bin Laden). Abdullah translated for Massoud as he told the world that these groups have ambitions beyond Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan is only the first step in their plans.
Note: Ahmad Shah Massoud was killed on September 9, 2001.
On December 22, 2001, during the Intra-Afghan talks in Bonn, Germany, Abdullah was selected as the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Interim Administration of Afghanistan under then Chairman Hamid Karzai. Later in June of 2002, Abdullah was again confirmed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan by a Loya Jirga. When Hamid Karzai won Afghanistan’s first presidential elections in 2004, he initially re-appointed Abdullah as Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, but later in 2006, he replaced him with Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
After leaving his post as Foreign Minister, Abdullah served as Secretary General of the Massoud Foundation.
Note: The Massoud Foundation was established in Kabul in 2003 to preserve and spread the values, leadership, and ideals of Ahmad Shah Massoud. The organization provides humanitarian assistance and runs various programs to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans.
Abdullah soon became a very vocal opponent of President Hamid Karzai’s government, and joined other former Ministers such as Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, and Ramazan Bashardost in accusing Karzai’s administration of being corrupt and having failed the Afghan people.
Presidential Election of 2009
On May 6, 2009, Abdullah officially registered as an Independent candidate for the 2009 Afghan presidential election, and ran a campaign with the slogan of “Hope and Change”. Abdullah wanted to implement reforms in the political process and change Afghanistan’s system of governance from a Presidential to a Parliamentary system. Other major candidates were the incumbent Hamid Karzai, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, and Ramazan Bashardost.
When the preliminary results came out in September, it was announced that Abdullah had come in second place, and that Hamid Karzai had the over 50% majority needed to avoid a run-off election. According to Afghanistan’s constitution, a candidate must receive over 50% to win or a run-off election is triggered. However, as soon as the elections had begun, reports of widespread fraud (in Karzai’s favor) were being reported. Journalists had reported numerous instances of ballot stuffing and officials appointed by Karzai involved in the cheating process. An investigation was done and Karzai’s share of the vote in the first round fell to 49.67% – after over one million of his votes were found to be fraudulent.
This automatically triggered a run-off election. This made many in the international community who funded the political process, and the country’s head of the Election Commission nervous in terms of the cost and the level of security that will be needed for another election. There were even speculations by many observers that the election was purposely rigged so that Karzai would win in the first round – thus saving the costs associated with another election round.
Abdullah accused the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), Azizullah Ludin, who was appointed by Hamid Karzai as favoring Karzai and rigging the votes. He demanded that Ludin step down or be removed from his seat or he would not participate in the run-off election. One of Abdullah’s senior advisors, Ahmad Wali Massoud, told reporters: “The fact is that the infrastructure of this fraud is still there. Almost 1.5 million votes were rigged. Nothing has changed…So if you go back and do the second round election, it means that it will happen again. So, therefore, I don’t think that we would be willing to participate.” Abdullah also demanded that various Ministers (Interior, Education and Tribal Affairs) in Karzai’s cabinet be suspended from their positions during the election period. They were accused of using their positions inappropriately to help Karzai in the election.
When his demands were not met, On November 1, 2009, in front of his supporters, Abdullah announced that he will not participate in the run-off election. “Since the election commission is not an independent body we cannot expect to have a fair result and the outcome of the runoff would be more fraud-tainted than the first round, so I have decided not to participate in it,” Abdullah said. A day later, the head of the IEC, Azizullah Ludin, announced Karzai as the winner and Afghanistan’s newly elected president. Ludin told reporters: “His Excellency Hamid Karzai, who has won the majority of votes in the first round and is the only candidate for the second round, is declared by the Independent Election Commission as the elected president of Afghanistan.”
Creation of Political Coalition
Despite not being able to become Afghanistan’s president, Abdullah continued to try to bring about change, especially in the political process. In 2010, he created a coalition called the Coalition for Change and Hope (later renamed to The National Coalition of Afghanistan). In the September 18, 2010 parliamentary election, the Coalition for Change and Hope won 36% of the seats (more than 90 out of 249 seats available).
Presidential Election of 2014
On October 1st, 2013, Abdullah announced that he would be a candidate for the 2014 presidential election, which was held on April 5, 2014. Since Hamid Karzai, by law could not run again, the election was to be a very interesting one. Abdullah’s opposition this time was Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah received 44.65% of the vote, and Ashraf Ghani followed behind with 33.6%. In order to win the presidency, a candidate must win more than 50% of the vote. So, Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, the then Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), declared that a second round of voting will be held on June 14, 2014. In the runoff election, Nuristani announced that Ghani received 55.27% of the votes, while Abdullah received 44.73%. Again, similar to the previous election, there were strong allegations (some even with very strong evidence) of fraud in favor of Ghani, and so, Abdullah refused to accept the results. Abdullah’s supporters accused Nuristani and his deputies at the IEC of ballot stuffing in favor of Ghani.
Note: Nurstani resigned on March 26, 2016 from his post as the Chairman of the IEC. Then on December 11, 2019, Nuristani pleaded guilty in a US federal court to “Theft of Public Money, admitting that he received over $100,000 in [US] government benefits by concealing foreign travel and residency between July 2015 and December 2018”.
After Abdullah declared the election results as invalid, fear grew that the nation would split up and a parallel government would be set up by Abdullah and his supporters. Eventually, the US government became more involved, and put intense pressure on Abdullah, forcing him to eventually compromise. Abdullah finally agreed to being Ghani’s CEO (Chief Executive Officer), a newly made position, after the United States threatened to stop all aid to Afghanistan. Abdullah’s acceptance of the US deal angered many of his supporters, especially Atta Mohammad Noor, the then powerful governor of Balkh province, and a major leader in the Jamiat-e Islami political party.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Abdullah was sworn in as Afghanistan’s CEO on September 29, 2014, the same day Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president. Abdullah accomplished very little politically during his time as CEO. Sometimes, he did meet with some major international business leaders and politicians seeking foreign investment and support for Afghanistan, however, for the most part, he mostly attended minor inauguration ceremonies, and other types of events of little significant value. Many political observers as well as his allies saw him as being effectively sidelined by Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah held the CEO role until he officially stepped down on March 11, 2020.
Presidential Election of 2019
On September 28, 2019, Abdullah, yet again tried to win the Afghan presidency, and again lost in another fraud ridden election against Ghani. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that Ghani had won 50.64% of the votes, and therefore, no run off election was needed. Abdullah refused to accept the results, causing the country to plunge into another political crisis. Abdullah announced that once again fraud had been committed, and declared himself president. He even held his own swearing-in ceremony on March 9th (2020), the same day Ghani was sworn in as president. Abdullah announced that he would be setting up his own government and would start appointing governors, and other political seats.
Chairman of National Reconciliation High Council
Finally, on May 17th, Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal, again under pressure from the United States. Under the agreement, Abdullah would be appointed as the head of the National Reconciliation High Council and members of his team will be included in the cabinet. The agreement also called for Ghani to make Abdul Rashid Dostum (Ghani’s former vice president who became an ally of Abdullah), a marshal of the armed forces.
Other Interesting Facts About Dr. Abdullah
- Abdullah speaks Dari, Pashto, and English, and is proficient in Arabic and French.
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