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Afghanistan - TV debate

Karzai under fire over warlord allies

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-08-17 Latest update 2009-08-19 07:02 TU

The presidential debate is televised in a restaurant in Kabul on Sunday(Photo: Reuters)

The presidential debate is televised in a restaurant in Kabul on Sunday
(Photo: Reuters)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai came under fire Sunday for making deals with warlords accused of committing atrocities. He faced two opponents in his campaign to be re-elected on 20 August in the first television debate ever attended by a sitting president.

Karzai was sharply criticised by clean-government campaigner Ramazan Bashardost, who is proving a popular candidate in the race for the country’s top job.

‘’There are those who claim they are fighting warlords, but today warlords have the main role in their campaign,’’ Bashardost said, adding that one of Karzai’s choices as Vice President is ‘’not acceptable to the people of Afghanistan’’.

That’s a clear reference to Mohammad Fahim, who is held responsible for a number of atrocities during the 1990s civil war. But Bashardost did not name him, saying that if he did so the debate could degenerate as parliamentary debates have in the past when rights violators have been called to account.

Karzai has also won the support of other warlords, including Abdul Rashid Dostam, an Uzbek military leader, who is reported to be returning to the country Monday from unofficial exile in Turkey, in response to demands from his supporters in northern Afghanistan.

Another of Karzai’s opponents, former World Bank employee Ashraf Ghani, boasted in the debate that he has ‘’not struck any deals with any warlord’’ or ‘’given any ministry, governor's position, or a part of Afghanistan to any of them".

Karzai defended his tactics as necessary  for ‘’the national interest, for progress, for national unity, avoiding war’’ and said he is ready to make such alliances "a thousand times’’ if necessary.

The man seen as the main contender against Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, did not attend the debate for unknown reasons, although he did take part in an earlier debate in which Karzai did not turn up to. According to his campaign, Abdullah was campaigning in the north on Sunday.

The debates have not proved as popular with audiences as Indian soap operas, newly available on Afghan TV and now an unmissable nightly rendezvous for those lucky enough to have televisions.

The Taliban on Sunday for the first time threatened to kill people taking part in the election.

In leaflets dropped in the south, they said they have adopted a new tactic of hitting election centres and warned "respected residents" that they could become victims of their operations if they go to vote.

"We are using new tactics targeting election centres... We will accelerate our activities on election day and the day before," Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told the AFP news agency.

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