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The President tipped to win

How Karzai saved his political life

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-08-09 Latest update 2009-08-12 12:12 TU

Hamid Karzai (C) with his running mates Mohammed Qasim Fahim (L) and Vice-President Karim Khalili(Photo: Reuters)

Hamid Karzai (C) with his running mates Mohammed Qasim Fahim (L) and Vice-President Karim Khalili
(Photo: Reuters)

Although his first term in office has failed to resolve the country’s many problems, Hamid Karzai is tipped to win. He has neutralised rivals, outmanoeuvred critics and brought opponents inside his tent.

The campaign didn't begin well. After trying to move the election forward to 20 April Karzai gave in when the Election Commission insisted that it take place in August.

There have been more election rallies this year than in 2004. But their principal aim seems not to be to convince Afghans who to vote for but to convince foreigners that the sort of election campaign they are familiar with is taking place.

The outcome is more likely to be decided by behind-the-scenes deals with infuential figures and that is where Karzai excels.

After Barack Obama’s election as US President, the Afghan President looked set to lose the support, including weekly phone calls, he received from George Bush. Reports filled the media that the White House was searching for another candidate to back.

But the tone in Washington has changed after Karzai skilfully manoeuvred around his critics and rivals. 

He protested loudly at the deaths of civilians at the hands of international troops, posing as the man who stands up to foreign powers and turning Obama’s apparent coolness into proof of his independence.

Abdul Rachid Dostam(Photo: AFP)

Abdul Rachid Dostam
(Photo: AFP)

And he won the support of three big players, Mohammad Mohaqiq, a member of the Hazara ethnic group who won 11.7 per cent in 2004, Uzbek warlord Abdul Rachid Dostam, who won ten per cent, and Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik.

Karzai has named Fahim, along with another Hazara, Karim Khalili, as his running mate.

The choice was criticised by UN representatives in Kabul because the Marshal, who was sacked as Defence Minister in 2004, is suspected of war crimes during the fight against the Soviet occupation. But it has two big advantages. It muffles a formerly very vocal critic and it gives Karzai, a Pashtun, a key Tajik ally. Fahim was close to Ahmed Shah Mahsood, the Northern Alliance leader who was assassinated in 2001 and is now a national hero. He can be expected to attract support in Kabul and areas to the north, including Masood’s base, the Panjshir Valley.

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