Karzai’s Brother Quits Afghan Presidential Race

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Candidate Endorses Former Foreign Minister for President.

KABUL—The brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday effectively bowed out of the country’s presidential race and endorsed one of his rivals, shaking up the country’s election campaign a month before the historic vote.

Afghanistan President, Afghan Elections, Qayum Karzai,
The exit of Qayum Karzai, above, could signal that Zalmai Rassoul is the president’s preferred candidate. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Qayum Karzai, the elder brother of the current president, announced in a news conference in Kabul that he would back the candidacy of former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.

The move creates a powerful new bloc appealing to ethnic Pashtun voters, the country’s largest community. Afghanistan is slated to choose its new president April 5, in an election that is bitterly opposed by the Taliban—and that, if successful, would mark the first democratic transition of power in the nation’s history. President Karzai is not allowed by the constitution to run again.

Acknowledging Qayum Karzai’s endorsement, Mr. Rassoul Thursday described his former rival as a member of an influential family and a “great politician.” Both men’s families hail from the southern city of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest metropolis that traditionally produced Afghanistan’s rulers.

Despite the withdrawal, Qayum Karzai’s name will remain on the ballots, along with 10 others presidential aspirants, as the deadline for changing the ballots has already passed.

“There will be no change in the ticket,” said Hamid Saboory, a senior aide to Qayum Karzai. “What we are trying to do is convince everybody who are our supporters on voting day to not vote for Qayum, but vote for Rassoul.”

Mahmood Karzai, another brother of the president, said the merger of the two campaigns followed weeks of intense negotiation between the different camps as well as with tribal elders.

“The constituency of both candidates is practically the same,” he said. “Both teams are paying close attention to the Afghan traditions, to tribal traditions. So we wanted to make sure that our constituents are in line with our thinking.”

Thursday’s decision is likely to send a powerful signal to some voters that Mr. Rassoul is the Afghan president’s favored successor. While President Karzai has repeatedly said he would stay above the fray, Mr. Rassoul—who served as foreign minister until announcing his candidacy—is widely viewed as a palace insider who would provide some level of continuity between the current administration and a new government.

Other leading candidates are former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who draws strongest support in Afghanistan’s north, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.

Mr. Abdullah, who came second after President Karzai in the 2009 elections, has been campaigning in the country’s east, outside his traditional stronghold. Mr. Ghani drew a large crowd of supporters Wednesday in a major campaign rally in Takhar, in northern Afghanistan.

While Mr. Ghani is Pashtun, one of his running mates is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek former warlord who is also seen as someone who can deliver a bloc of votes in northern Afghanistan.

Amid this campaign maneuvering, however, Qayum Karzai emerged as a kingmaker in the presidential race, which is being held as U.S. and international combat troops prepare to leave the country.

A group of influential Pashtun tribal elders and religious leaders recently met in Kabul to discuss whether to throw support behind Mr. Rassoul or the president’s brother. According to participants in the meeting, the elders voted to back Qayum Karzai. But in a meeting at the presidential palace, the president told the elders that he would prefer to see his brother step aside, people familiar with the meeting said.

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