The South Asia Channel

27 candidates enter race for Afghanistan's 2014 presidential election

Afghanistan 2014 

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the end of the candidate registration process for next year's presidential election on Sunday, and said that 27 individuals had filed nomination papers before the deadline (AP, Pajhwok, Post, RFE/RL, VOA).  Ziaul Haq Amarkhel, an IEC spokesman, added that 2,360 people - including 273 women - had also submitted their names for provincial elections.  One of the last-minute registrants was Qayyum Karzai, a brother of current President Hamid Karzai (Pajhwok). 

A report by the Voice of America noted that: "The final days of the nomination period were marked by a frenzy of intrigue as former warlords, tribal leaders, and veteran politicians formed alliances" (VOA).  And the New York Times described some of the candidates as a "professorial technocrat," an "urbane diplomat," and "a man accused of being a pedophile who was once a darling of the Central Intelligence Agency" (NYT).  After the IEC vets the candidates, a final list of contenders will be announced on November 16, and official campaigning for the April election will begin in February.

In addition to next April's presidential election, 2014 will also see the withdrawal of coalition combat forces from Afghanistan.  While the United States and Afghanistan have been working on a Bilateral Security Agreement to determine the size and scope of any remaining U.S. troops, officials involved in the negotiations say that they have reached an impasse, raising the possibility that there might be a total withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of next year (LAT, NYT).  U.S. officials have said they are preparing to suspend negotiations in the coming weeks, should no breakthrough emerge, and one told the New York Times that resuming the talks with Karzai's successor is "frankly, not very likely."  

Deaths in Afghanistan 

Four coalition soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday "during a partnered operation," but NATO did not provide further details about the incident - including its location - or the service members' nationalities (AP, BBC, RFE/RL, VOA).  However, Javed Faisal, the spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the four soldiers were Americans and that they were killed in the Zherai district by a suicide bomber (Pajhwok).  Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, an Afghan Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack. 

There were also reports that a fifth NATO service member was killed on Saturday at a base in Zabul province when a private Afghan security guard shot an American soldier (AJA, NYT).  According to Ghulam Jilani Khan, the provincial chief of security, the guard shot and killed the soldier following a dispute between the two men.  He added that other soldiers then killed the attacker.  NATO has not yet commented on this alleged insider attack.

At least five Afghan civilians, including three children, were reportedly killed on Friday evening in a NATO airstrike in Nangarhar province, local officials reported on Saturday (AJE, RFE/RL).  Hazrat Hussain Mashreqiwal, a provincial police spokesman, said the young people - aged between 12 and 20 - had gone to hunt birds with air guns near Jalalabad, the provincial capital.  He said they had been targeted and killed by foreign forces but Lt. Col. Will Griffin, a NATO spokesman, said Afghan and coalition forces had responded to an attack with a "precision strike" and that initial reports indicated there were no civilian casualties.  

Retirement confirmed 

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the powerful head of Pakistan's army, released a short statement on Sunday confirming that he will retire at the end of November, somewhat laying to rest growing media speculation that he would either extend his term or take a powerful new position in the military (Dawn, NYT, Post, RFE/RL).  In his statement, Kayani said: "As I complete my tenure, the will of the people has taken root and a constitutional order is in place.  The armed forces of Pakistan fully support and want to strengthen this democratic order."  He did not, however, directly comment on rumors that he will take over as head of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff committee following his retirement.  

At least two people were killed and 20 others were wounded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Monday when a bomb exploded near a medical facility on the outskirts of Peshawar, the provincial capital (AJA, BBC, Dawn, ET, NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters, RFE/RL, VOA).  The attack, which occurred on the third and last day of a U.N.-backed vaccination campaign in Peshawar, appeared to target the police who were protecting the vaccination team working in the facility.  Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio remains endemic and eight new cases of the crippling diseases were reported just last week. 

Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in October 2012 for advocating female education, told the BBC recently that discussions with the country's Taliban affiliate were needed to achieve peace (AFP, BBC, Dawn).  During her first in-depth interview since the attack, Yousafzai said: "The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue."  She added that discussion is "not an issue for me, that's the job of the government... and that's also the job of America." 

Charm offensive

While Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) was somewhat overwhelmed on Sunday by the flurry of last-minute candidate registration's, TOLO News reported that most observers were unable to hold back their smiles and chuckles when Afghan comedian Bahadorak submitted his nomination papers to the committee (TOLO News).  Bahadorak arrived at the IEC's Kabul office in a car completely covered with pictures of his and his three vice presidential picks - there are only two vice presidents in Afghanistan's central government - and told reporters that he "will connect the water of Band-e-Amir to Australia's water" and promised to "create a paved road from Daykundi province to New York."  Delivering his platform priorities with a straight face and with the same solemnity exhibited by other candidates, Bahadorak's antics provided a brief moment of light-heartedness in an otherwise serious nomination process. 

-- Bailey Cahall 

ASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images