Candidates for Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election officially launched their campaigns Sunday with a series of rallies held in Kabul , but it remains to be seen whether the next president will have a closer relationship with the United States than the obstreperous incumbent Hamid Karzai.
There are 11 candidates vying to replace Karzai, who cannot run again, reports the BBC. The president has repeatedly held back from signing a security deal that would allow the U.S. military to carry out operations against the Taliban and suspected terrorists in the war-torn country, saying his successor could handle negotiations.
The academic Ashraf Ghani, who is running with former Uzbek warlord Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Hazara tribal chieftain Sarwar Danish as vice-presidents, promised at his rally Sunday to bring change. And the candidate Abdullah Abdullah said the world should not be frightened of Afghanistan, and Afghans should not be frightened of the world.
"There are actually a number of fairly strong candidates, people who we have worked with very closely in the past," said former Defense Department official David Sedney on PBS on Jan. 27. "And most importantly, the election gives the Afghan people themselves a chance to choose. And then I think we will have a much better chance of moving forward."
It's not just the outcome of the election that will shape Afghanistan's future, but also whether voting can be carried out safely. A peaceful election process would set a precedent for future democratic elections with diminished coalition and U.S. involvement. But on Saturday two workers for Abdullah Abdullah were shot and killed in the western city of Herat, and the Taliban has threatened to derail the campaign. Voters expressed anxiety about the safety of the polls, and said it could prevent people from casting ballots.
Violence in Afghanistan has continued in recent months, with a recent Taliban attack on a Kabul cafe that served Western clientele killing 21 people.