KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two former Afghan warlords announced Thursday that they will share a ticket — one for president, the other for vice president — in next year's elections, a vote that will help shape the country's future following the departure of foreign combat troops.
Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an influential lawmaker and religious scholar, registered his candidacy for the presidency for the April 5 election.
Another former warlord, former energy and water minister Ismail Khan, will run as Sayyaf's first vice-president, and a little-known member of Afghanistan's upper house, Abdul Wahab Irfan, as second vice president.
"We will move to unite Afghanistan. If the nation is together and has the same voice, problems can be solved," Sayyaf said.
Registration expires Oct. 6, and four presidential candidates and their respective vice-presidents have signed up so far.
The most prominent is former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner up to President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections and dropped out just ahead of a runoff vote following allegations of massive fraud in the first round.
Karzai can't run for a third consecutive term and has not yet endorsed anyone. There are no clear favorites, but speculation in recent days has focused on Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, who may wind up as a consensus candidate, and Karzai's older brother Quayum, who is a businessman and politician.
Billions of dollars in funds pledged to Afghanistan are tied to the government's holding transparent and credible elections, a challenge in a country rife with patronage and corruption and a resilient Taliban insurgency. The Taliban have asked people not to vote and do not recognize the election process.
Karzai's failure so far to sign a security deal with the United States and his apparent reluctance to do so until the elections also looms over the campaign
After nearly a year of negotiations, the United States wants a deal by October to give American and NATO military planners enough time to prepare to keep some troops in the country instead of a total pull-out by end of next year. If the U.S. does not sign the deal, it is unlikely that NATO or any of its allies will keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
Karzai, however, is pressing demands that the U.S. is reluctant to meet, and also is believed to want to shield himself from any possible backlash over signing a deal that some might see as compromising Afghan sovereignty.
Ethnically fractious, Afghan politics are marked by patronage and alliances among the elite — a group that includes warlords and tribal elders who can marshal votes among the country's various ethnic groups. The population of 31 million is roughly 42 percent Pashtun, 27 percent Tajik, 9 percent Hazara, and 9 percent Uzbek along with other, smaller factions. The Taliban are predominantly Pashtun.
Alliances among those groups are expected to generate coalitions that will vie for the powerful job of president.
Sayyaf and Khan are best known as warlords during Afghanistan's civil war from 1992 until the Taliban takeover in 1996, fighting on the side of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Previously, both also actively participated in the war against the Soviet occupation.
Sayyef, 67, is an Egyptian-trained religious scholar and ethnic Pashtun who was a lawmaker until he resigned to run for president.
Khan, who hails from Herat province, is a 67-year-old Tajik warlord who wields influence inside his ethnic community.
Irfan, a religious scholar in his forties, is from the Uzbek ethnic group but told reporters he was not a supporter of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, another former warlord who is thought to control the majority of that group's vote.
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