Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in a rare news conference broadcast by Afghanistan Television from his Golkhana Palace in Kabul on June 3, defended the steps he has taken so far to ensure that the September national elections are fair and free. Karzai also used the news conference to announce his departure on June 7 for the US, ahead of the Group of Eight 8 economic summit that begins in Sea Island, Georgia on June 8. Karzai also announced his scheduled meeting with US President George W. Bush on June 15. However, Afghan journalists speaking in Dari and Pashtu grilled Karzai at the news conference. They sharply questioned Karzai on his recent behind-the-scene talks with warlords and former mujahidin leaders from the Soviet era. The journalists also criticized the rules governing the electoral process. Earlier, in a much publicized news report, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, former Afghan president and leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami, had openly stated that Karzai couldn’t win the presidential elections without the support of former mujahidin leaders (PakTribune.com, Kabul, June 2).
Rabbani’s party, led by legendary Ahmad Shah Masood, formed the core of the Northern Alliance or United Front that fought the Taliban. US forces with the help of the Northern Alliance that overthrew the Taliban regime in December 2001. The news report said Rabbani had submitted “more than 20 conditions” to President Karzai in return for the mujahidin’s support for his candidature in the September presidential elections. Conditions reportedly included that the future government share power with the mujahidin warlords, and that Islamic law and values be part of government edicts. In answer to reporters’ questions on the same subject at the news conference in Golkhana Palace, Karzai said, “I have always consulted them (jihadi leaders) and other Afghan personalities, tribal elders, scholars and intellectuals in different affairs and the national issues of the country.” Karzai said that in the previous week, “jihadi leaders” had presented a “National Agenda” that included several articles. Karzai said his cabinet would study the agenda and give an opinion after returning from the US trip.
In the meantime, Karzai expressed “thanks” to all jihadi figures and “other brothers” who have recently expressed support for his candidacy, including Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, Mohammad Yunus Qanooni, the education minister, as well as northern Tajik commander Ustad Atta Mohammad. Karzai denied reports that he had already promised Rabbani chairmanship of the Parliament and Ismail Khan, governor of Herat province, the post of interior minister. Karzai said it was up to elected representatives to select a chairman for the Parliament, and that if Rabbani was selected, he would welcome that decision. Karzai added that he had offered the post of interior minister to Ismail Khan in 2003 during the Emergency Loya Jirga, but he did not accept it. However, he said that Khan was welcome to discuss a post in the government at any time before the elections, and that he would be willing to appoint another governor for Herat. Karzai also dismissed reports that General Abdul Rashid Dostum was not taking part in the negotiations. Karzai said that he had invited Dostum to come to Kabul, and that the two had held meetings. Karzai categorically denied that “a historic agreement” had been made with the jihadi leaders for a future “coalition” government. “There is no historic agreement. The nation and their votes will make a historic agreement,” he said.
To another question, Karzai said all Afghans, including former Taliban and communists who were not in leadership positions, are welcome to take part in the elections. Only “criminals” will be disallowed from the electoral process, he added. Karzai also revealed that he had received a blueprint for restructuring the government, which included reducing the cabinet from 29 ministries to 20. Addressing a question about the electorate process, Karzai said he would investigate possible voter registration fraud as well as the issue of buying votes. According to Article 44 of the election law, the nomination of a presidential candidate requires 10,000 photocopies of voter ID cards; similarly, a parliamentary candidate would need to produce 5,000 photocopies of voter ID cards. There is fear that this process may lead to “bribery” for the photocopying of some voter ID cards.
An analysis of President Karzai’s far-reaching remarks in this rare press conference indicates that he stills remains on shaky ground. His ability to broaden the base of political power in Afghanistan remains to be seen. Already a seventh candidate has joined the presidential race: Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, former deputy prime minister and a close aide to fundamentalist mujahidin leader Abdurab Rasul Sayyaf. Ahmadzai expects to contest Karzai’s seat. Other contenders for the position include former Planning Minister Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, ex-bureaucrat Mohammad Ismael Qasimyar, and popular female doctor Masooda Jalal (PakTribune.com, Kabul, June 4).