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New Afghan president courting Washington

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

New Afghan president courting Washington

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Months before becoming president-elect of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai began spending tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists in the United States, using his ties to the West to seek influence in Washington.

Since May, Ghani Ahmadzai’s campaign has hired three different Washington public relations and lobbying firms, according to required Justice Department filings. At times, his campaign has spent $180 000 a month to reach out to media, members of Congress and Obama administration officials.

Ghani Ahmadzai’s lobbying campaign to build relationships with U.S. officials and lawmakers came while he was still in a hotly contested election tainted by allegations of fraud.

He and his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, emerged as the two top vote-getters in April’s election, setting up a runoff that led to more claims of ballot box stuffing. A lengthy audit of the nearly eight million votes cast caused more political acrimony and fears mounted that the country would descend into violence.

On Sunday, Ghani Ahmadzai was announced the winner to succeed long-time Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Abdullah or his designee will become chief executive officer of the country under a landmark power-sharing deal.

Unlike Karzai, Ghani Ahmadzai says he’ll sign the bilateral security agreement that sets the parameters for 9 800 U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends December 31.

But appearing too cosy with Washington has its own political risks in Afghanistan, where the public is wary of foreign meddling, even though the nation will be dependent on foreign aid for years to come.

The filings indicate that the Ghani Ahmadzai campaign paid $100 000 a month plus expenses to Roberti+White and another $45 000 a month to Sanitas International.

In a third contract, the campaign pays $35 000 a month to Fenton Communications for “media advising, media outreach and messaging”.


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