Karzai offers positions to rivals

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will hand government positions to his two top challengers if he wins next week's presidential election.
An Afghan woman speaks to President Hamid Karzai during a campaign rally for his female supporters in Kabul on Thursday. ((Farzana Wahidy/Associated Press))

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will hand government positions to his two top challengers if he wins next week's presidential election.

He told supporters at a rally in Kabul he is confident he will win the election.

Karzai won the 2004 presidential election with 55 per cent of the vote and is widely considered to be the front-runner for the Aug. 20 vote.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani are considered leading contenders.

If he wins, Karzai said, "I will invite Dr. Abdullah, I will invite Ashraf Ghani, give them food and tea and give them jobs, as I did last time."

He did not specify what positions would be given to his opponents.

Waiting for election results

Karzai's offer is premature, said Abdullah's campaign spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki.

Abdullah told supporters in Mazar-e-Sharif on Thursday the outcome of the election is far from being determined.

"Don't listen to what others might tell you. This election is very close," Abdullah said.

Abdullah is popular in northern Tajik areas, which are more peaceful and more likely to have a strong turnout.

Ghani's campaign team also said it will not agree to a pre-election deal.

According to the United Nations, there are 41 presidential candidates and more than 3,000 people running for provincial council seats.

A candidate needs 50 per cent of the vote in order to avoid going to a runoff election for the top two finishers.

Analysts have said that if the election goes to a runoff vote, Karzai could be vulnerable if his opponents rally around an alternative candidate.

Rally support

A U.S. government-funded poll released earlier this week suggested Karzai would get 36 per cent of the vote, while Abdullah would get 20 per cent and Ghani three per cent.

Analysts said Karzai's offer on Thursday was likely meant as a pre-election deal to offset tensions in the country and rally support.

The country is currently embroiled in insurgency and more than 100,000 international troops and 175,000 Afghan forces are working to provide additional security for the elections. Specially trained police officers will also be sent to polling stations on Friday to ensure they are secure ahead of the vote.

Karzai has urged Afghans to vote despite the Taliban threatening to disrupt the polls.

"This is not something new to us," said Tooryalai Wesa, governor of the province of Kandahar. "The threat is always there."

It's unclear whether the Taliban will be capable of intimidating large numbers of people from voting, but officials have estimated that hundreds of polling stations may remain shut on the election date, almost all in areas dominated by Pashtuns.

Insurgent threats

During the campaign, Karzai has said he is willing to open a dialogue with some Taliban who are not affiliated with al-Qaeda in exchange for ceasefires and some control in government.

Most of the country's most violent regions — in the south and the east — are where the country's ethnic Pashtuns live. Karzai, himself a Pashtun, could see his returns lowered if insurgent violence keeps Afghans there from voting.

A low Pashtun turnout could also call the legitimacy of the election results into question.

There have been increasing concerns that election tensions could manifest themselves in street violence and allegations of fraud.

Some of the opposition candidates allege Karzai is using state resources to ensure re-election.

With files from The Associated Press