Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has expressed doubt whether his country will be in a position to handle the presidential elections as well as the withdrawal of international forces, as scheduled, in 2014.
At a joint news conference in Kabul with visiting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Thursday, Karzai revealed that he has been "talking about this for a few months now, whether 2014 with all the changes that are taking place ... will be an agenda that we can handle."
"This is a question that I've had and I have raised with my inner circle," Karzai said and mentioned that he has not made any "final decisions" as yet and did not expect to make them soon. Karzai ended with a playful comment regarding his inner circle: "it looks like I should make this circle smaller."
Analysts are uncertain regarding the seriousness of Karzai's proposal. Karzai was nominated to the office of president towards the end of 2001 and re-elected in 2004 and 2009. His close associates have said that he is weary of being at the helm of a country at war. But the fact is that the constitution bars him from seeking a third term and that his present term ends in May 2014. The constitution also stipulates that the presidential elections have to take place 30 to 60 days before an incumbent leaves office.
Karzai's opponents have voiced the concern that Karzai might delay the vote and amend the constitution to remain in power, Karzai dismissing all such claims. His latest suggestion would seem to indicate moving up the polls to 2013, and even that is not in his authority. It would require a two-thirds majority in the fractious parliament to change the date of the election, apart from the approval of a meeting of tribal elders known as a loya jirga.
The situation has made some analysts go back to the theory that Karzai is looking for a graceful exit before a full-blown civil war engulfs the country, as many Afghans fear. His voluntary early departure - a rare thing among Afghan rulers - may go some way to burnish his image tarnished by allegations of election fraud, corruption and patronage. As for his years in office, the impression prevails that his authority did not extend much beyond the capital and that ordinary Afghans rarely profited from it.
Afghan analysts fear that Afghan security forces may not be in a position to provide the security needed for an election, a view that would seem to be in favor of holding the presidential elections in 2013. If the present situation is any indication, a suicide bombing in the northern city of Kunduz killed five people including two police officers on Thursday while a roadside bomb killed a NATO service member in southern Afghanistan on the same day.
At the joint news conference with the NATO Secretary General on Thursday, Karzai said that they had talked about the numbers and strength of the Afghan security forces expected to be built up by 2015-16. The attempt will be to hand over security to the Afghan forces in 2013. In Karzai's words: "Even in 2013, there will certainly be areas which will have to be in the responsibility of the international forces, but the process will have been completed by 2014. The international forces will leave the country and the process of transition will be complete."
Author: Arun Chowdhury (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Berning