In a stadium in the capital Kabul, 10,000 supporters gathered to hear former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Together with the former finance minister Asharf Ghani, he forms the biggest threat to President Hamid Karzai’s lead in the polls for elections today.
Nevertheless, the president is coming into more and more international criticism for alleged alliances with warlords to secure his re-election. The United States has expressed its concern about the return of Abdul Rashid Dostum to Afghanistan. The feared warlord is believed to have made a pact with President Karzai.
Last week Karzai signed a law which allows a husband to withhold food from his wife if she refuses his sexual demands. The law is supposed to be a deal with one Ayatollah to get his support. It’s not about the sex, it’s about the Ayatollah’s support. In any case, it shows one more example of the unrecognized women´s rights.
On Thursday, 17 million Afghans will elect a president from around 30 candidates. The Taliban have threatened bomb attacks. In past days, it was said that the government of Afghanistan had agreed a ceasefire with the Taliban to cover the province of Badghis and the border with Turkmenistan.
Karzai is heavily reliant on former militia leaders to deliver votes and his international backers are worried that warlords could return to power after the election. One of the most notorious, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, returned to Afghanistan from Turkey on Sunday to throw his support behind the president. Washington believes Dostum may be responsible for human rights violations and is concerned at the possibility he could play a role in a post-election government.
**Essential power base**
Bette Dam spent many hours interviewing Mr Karzai on a number of occasions in 2008, and she describes these former warlords as essential to the president’s power base. “They’re old friends”, she says, “with whom he thinks he has to wheel and deal to keep the country safe. The fact that he’s calling on their support now is a sign of his determination to stay in power”.
There is a danger though, that these allies could become millstones if President Karzai wins a second term in office. A lot of Afghan groups, including the Taliban, are fiercely opposed to these warlords, and Karzai’s association with them will make the process of negotiation and reconciliation between the different factions in the country much more difficult.
**Reconciliation is key**
Assuming Hamid Karzai wins a second term,the most important thing will be for the Afghan government and its international supporters to agree on a strategy of how the different parties can be reconciled. “They have to talk, that’s the only solution, we tried for 8 years the military solution and it’s not going to work”, concludes Dam.