Qayyum Karzai has announced he will be supporting the campaign of former foreign minister and national security advisor, Zalmai Rassul, in a “unification” of their presidential campaigns. This has given a significant boost to Rassul’s bid for Afghanistan’s highest office, by removing one of the two men considered to be a possible Palace choice. Indeed, it appears to be a sign that Rassul is President Karzai’s preferred choice. AAN senior analysts Thomas Ruttig and Kate Clark bring this short update of how the Qayyum Karzai and Rassul campaigns had been shaping up (see the earlier AAN dispatch here).
Qayyum Karzai announced his decision to back Rassul by saying, “We joined hands because our views, plans and objectives are the same.” On his campaign website, the new “alliance” is described as “moderate”, based on the principles of ta’ahud, takhassus, tadawum [and] eslah (commitment, professionalism, continuity and reform). The statement also included a commitment to “human rights values”. Qayum Karzai’s team had been campaigning under the slogan of “professionalism and commitment” (and has a pen as his symbol on the ballot paper) while Rassul’s slogan was “moderation and rebuilding” (with the radio as campaign symbol). The term “continuity” is key, as it seems to indicate that the joint ticket will continue the present policy lines. This would almost certainly include a central advisory role of the incumbent after the elections.
The announcement of the alliance was dressed up in abstract nouns masquerading as ‘shared’ policy objectives, but this was clearly actually about increasing the chances of getting a Karzai loyalist as the next president. Hamed Karzai has been very keen to say publicly he is not supporting any candidate, but many of his loyalists have, in practice, been backing Rassul. Now, Qayyum Karzai has said the alliance hopes for a win in the first round of the elections as his team “represents the only hope for stability in this country.”
On the technical side, Qayyum Karzai’s name will remain on the ballot papers which have already been printed. If the merger of his campaign is not well communicated around the country, this might lead to invalid votes being cast. The election law provides that such votes cannot be counted in Rassul’s favour and the Independent Election Commission has repeatedly advised against candidates withdrawing from the race during this late phase of the electoral process. If Qayyum Karzai gets under ten per cent of the votes, he will lose his campaign deposit of one million Afghanis (or about 17,500 US dollars).
Kabul’s ever-spinning rumour mill also has it that more candidates might join the Rassul-Karzai alliance. This could include former senior minister Hedayat Amin Arsala who, a few days earlier, had announced that he would join forces with former provincial governor Gul Agha Sherzai, former defence minister Rahim Wardak and possibly even jihadi leader Abdul Rabb Rassul Sayyaf who, with his prominent vice presidential candidate Ismail Khan, is campaigning for a strengthening role of the former mujahedin in running the country.This would effectively lead to a three-way race on 5 April between Rassul, Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah, along with some others, like the Hezb-e Islami politician Qutbuddin Helal, member of the royal clan Nader Na’im and former MP Daud Sultanzoy. According to Afghan channel 1TV, however, Sayyaf stated on 6 March that he would not step down. According to Wardak’s campaign chief Sarwar Ahmadzai, who had been a presidential candidate himself in 2009, talking to 1TV on 5 March talks between Wardak’s and Rassul’s teams are ongoing and have not reached a conclusion so far.
All major candidates have organised large rallies in different provinces over the past days and received endorsements by significant political forces. Rassul is supported by the factions of Hezb-e Islami led by Wahidullah Sabawun and Paktia governor Juma Khan Hamdard, former eastern warlord Hazrat Ali and Princess India, a daughter of Afghan reformer-king Amanullah who ruled between 1919 and 1929. He was also joined by a number of civil society organisations.
Ghani attracted the support of four former mujahedin parties, Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami (Islamic Revolution Movement), the Hezb-e Islami wing formerly led by Yunos Khales and now dominated by Haji Din Muhammad, who was Hamed Karzai’s central campaign manager in 2009, the Afghanistan national Liberation Front led by President Karzai’s former mentor Sebghatullah Mojaddedi and Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gailani’s National Islamic Front of Afghanistan. All four parties have been supports of President Karzai before. He also was endorsed by an alliance of the Ismaili leader Sayyed Mansur Naderi with some leftist parties,
Dr Abdullah won the support of the Solidarity Council of the Turkmens in northern Afghanistan (source: Nur TV, 6 March 2014) and can count on a part of the registered wing of Hezb-e Islami that, however, has been weakened by defections to the Rassul camp. Arsala is backed by a number of presidential candidates that were disqualified by the Independent Election Commission in October 2013.
A Rassul victory would make a women vice president for the first time since Sima Samar, now head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, was one of four Karzai deputies in the Afghan Interim Administration formed in the 2001 Bonn conference.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020