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Former runner-up hits election trail hoping for a win

By Hafiz Ahmadi — THE Afghan village where Haji Farooq lives has seen a surge in violence since the presidential election campaign started last month. “Security has worsened now with more robberies and murders. General insecurity has increased since the campaign started,” said the 47-year-old from Hophiyan village. But that did not stop Farooq from attending the rally of Abdullah Abdullah, a presidential hopeful and one of the frontrunners, at Charikar, the capital of Parwan province. “God knows better who will win the elections. But I see huge support for Abdullah. I hope he will win,” he said, accompanied by his youngest child, a six-year-old boy. The presidential vote has been slated for April 5. But campaigning has been marred by violence, with the Taliban vowing to disrupt the elections. Abdullah has already lost at least eight supporters and volunteers in the attacks, but said he is not discouraged.

“Let’s hope insecurity will not be an issue. People have defied the security situation. It has not prevented people from participating,” Abdullah said in an interview. “Look at today’s event. Thousands of people came. You think there was no security threat?” Earlier that morning, he travelled around 150 km along the dusty northern highway in a high-speed 12-car convoy with armed guards. Last month, in a similar visit to the country’s east, his convoy was attacked by the Taliban. “They tried their luck from afar. They failed to hit the target, but one police officer was injured,” his assistant said. The Charikar address was his first since the death of Vice-President Marshal Fahim, who “endorsed me, very clearly.” Fahim died last week of a heart attack. Abdullah cancelled all his rallies and meetings to mourn the death of his powerful ally. While his “official endorsement” will be missed, Abdullah said he hoped to garner support from all his followers. The election will mark the first democratic transfer of power in Afghan history. Including Abdullah, there are currently nine presidential candidates in the fray.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from standing for a third term in office. Abdullah’s main challenger is Ashraf Ghani, an intellectual technocrat, who has teamed up with a strongman as his deputy. Former foreign minister Zalmay Rassoul is a distant third, but his support was strengthened by an endorsement from the president’s brother earlier this month. Abdullah was a former foreign minister in the first Karzai administration after the Taliban regime, and before that an aide to the late anti-Soviet resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who went on to lead the fight against the Taliban until he was killed two days before the September 11 attacks in the United States. The Charikar area was one of the battlefronts between the Taliban and Massoud, and many still remember Abdullah from those days.

“He used to be one of the commanders. We saw him with our national hero Massoud,” said Ali Jan, an old mujahideen fighter. In the last elections in 2009, Abdullah pulled out of the run-off after alleged massive vote-rigging by the supporters of Karzai. Since then, Abdullah has been building his network as an opposition leader. “The whole meaning of a campaign is to convince someone to go and vote that day.” “I think we have been able to get our message across, way beyond what any other candidates could imagine because they started too late.”

source: Oman Observer

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