By Hamid Shalizi and Jessica Donati
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's aid donors should use their leverage to force the government to ban human rights violators from competing in a presidential election next year, a human rights group said on Wednesday.
Afghanistan's allies will be hoping the election, due next April, will set the country on a firm path to stability as it takes over responsibility for its security with the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of 2015.
Among the candidates who registered for the election by a Sunday deadline are several who have faced accusations of rights abuses during many years of war and turbulence.
The U.S-based group Human Rights Watch called for rights violators to be excluded as candidates.
"Had the Afghan government in the last decade properly addressed crimes of the past, several current candidates would now be disqualified from seeking office - or would even be serving time," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"Foreign donors should press the Afghan government to ensure future elections are not being contested by serious rights abusers."
One political leader accused of rights violations, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, in an apparent response to public pressure, this week took the unprecedented step of apologising for past bloodshed.
He has been accused of mistreatment that led to the death of enemies during the civil war in the 1990s and early the next decade.
"I want to be step ahead on this path and say that I apologize to all those who have suffered on all sides in the conflict," Dostum said on his Facebook page.
The apology did not convince some.
An analyst for the Afghanistan Analysts Network think-tank said it was aimed at forging an alliance for the polls.
"The statement was overtly linked to the election," wrote the analyst, Kate Clark.
The election is considered the most crucial since the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, with more than a decade of Western-led reforms resting on its outcome amid increasing Taliban violence.
President Hamid Karzai is barred by the constitution from running for a third term but his older brother, Qayum, has registered as a candidate.
Foreign concern about Afghanistan was underscored last week when Norway took the rare step of cutting aid on the grounds that Afghanistan had failed to meet commitments to protect women's rights and fight corruption.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)