9/11 Mastermind’s Mentor Among Afghan President Candidates

Afghanistan election authorities received 27 nominations to succeed President Hamid Karzai, including his older brother, a Columbia University Ph.D. holder and the mentor of the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Nominations for the April 5 presidential election closed around midnight, and a final list of candidates will be published on Nov. 16, Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, said by phone today. Term limits prevent another run by Karzai, who won the two elections held since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.

“The government will completely remain impartial during the election process,” Karzai told reporters today at his palace in Kabul. “I request all people to use their suffrage freely and independently.”

His successor will face a Taliban insurgency that is becoming more deadly as President Barack Obama withdraws most of the roughly 60,000 U.S. troops now in the war-torn South Asian country. The outcome will determine the extent to which democratic institutions have taken hold in a nation divided along ethnic and tribal lines.

“This election will be the most competitive one in Afghanistan’s history,” Jawid Kohistani, an independent Kabul-based political analyst, said by phone. “The teams are entirely composed of different ethnic groups, which will stimulate competition across ethnic lines.”

One Female

Presidential nominations also include two vice-president candidates, which are often split along ethnic lines to attract votes. Khadija Ghaznawi was the lone female nominee for president, according to Noor.

Ethnic Pashtuns, including Karzai and much of the Taliban, make up about 42 percent of the country’s 31 million people, according to the CIA World Factbook. Tajiks are the second-biggest at 27 percent, with Uzbeks, Hazaras and other groups making up the rest.

Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the runner-up to Karzai in 2009, is among the top candidates. The 53-year-old ethnic Tajik who helped U.S. forces topple the Taliban will run with senior Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq and an ethnic Pashtun as his vice-presidential nominees.

Columbia Doctorate

His challengers include former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a Pashtun with a doctorate degree in cultural anthropology from Columbia University in New York. He joined with Abdul Rashid Dostam, one of the country’s top Uzbek leaders, as well as an ethnic Hazara.

Abdul Qayum Karzai, the president’s older brother, also plans to run. He has reportedly been involved with Taliban figures to reach a political settlement, according to an Aug. 14 Congressional Research Service report.

Among the most controversial candidates is former warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a Pashtun who supported figures in the 1980s and 1990s who ultimately formed al-Qaeda. He’s running with a Tajik and an Uzbek.

During that time, Sayyaf served as the “mentor” of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, according to The 9/11 Commission Report. Later on Sayyaf saw the Taliban as selling out Afghanistan to al-Qaeda and joined the Northern Alliance, according to a Sept. 19 Congressional Research Service report.

A Sayyaf presidency would be “destructive” for Afghanistan’s relations with the U.S., according to Ahmad Saeed, a former Afghan diplomat and an independent Kabul-based analyst.

“He is very prominent among local people as a religious scholar and a warlord,” Saeed said of Sayyaf. “But he highly lacks the support of the west and the U.S.”

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