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Afghan Military Commander Plans to Run for President - 2004-07-22


A powerful northern Afghan commander says he will run for president in Afghanistan's coming election. General Abdul-Rashid Dostum, though unlikely to win the presidency, is a major force in Afghan politics because of strong support from the country's ethnic Uzbeks.

General Abdul-Rashid Dostum joined the growing number of Afghan presidential candidates Thursday after resigning earlier in the day from his posts as presidential adviser and northern military commander.

Under Afghan law, military officials and civil servants cannot run for president.

General Dostum enjoys overwhelming support among his fellow ethnic Uzbeks, however, he has only limited support among other communities. Afghanistan's Uzbek community is estimated at between five and 10 percent of the total population.

The Uzbek leader is controversial, due to his supporters' involvement in factional fighting in the Uzbek heartland of northern Afghanistan.

Forces loyal to him have frequently clashed with ethnic Tajik rivals under another northern commander, Atta Mohammed. Both the United Nations and the current transitional government have been called in to broker truces between the two sides.

While the final number of candidates running in the October presidential race will not be known until later this month, at least 20 people have already applied to run.

Despite the large field, recent Afghan and international media reports place President Hamid Karzai as the heavy favorite, as he is well known and enjoys strong support from international aid donors.

But even his staunch supporters, such as Abdul-Hakim Noorzai, head of a new pro-Karzai party, say the president's victory is by no means assured.

If candidates with strong support among their own ethnic constituencies splinter the vote, they could prevent Mr. Karzai from taking more than 50 percent of the total. That would force a second-round run-off election between the top two vote-getters.

Mr. Noorzai says a run-off election would likely be a tougher race for the president, and locking in a victory in the first round will depend on how hard Mr. Karzai campaigns.

"If he chooses a good commission to campaign for him, I am sure Mr. Karzai will be the winner in the first round of the election," he said. "But if not [there] will be another result."

The October 9 presidential election will be the first vote of its kind after over two decades of war. An election for parliament and provincial governments is expected to follow sometime next spring.

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