Official campaigning will, however, begin only in February 2014, and polling is scheduled for April 5.
The list of candidates contains the names of several warlords and battle-hardened Mujahideen who fought first against the Russians, then among themselves during the civil war, and then, with the Taliban. They are still fighting, though this time through the ballot, instead of the bullet.
The most probable occupant of the Arg Palace (the official residence of the Afghan President) in Kabul seems to be Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the soft spoken former foreign minister of Afghanistan and a close confidant of legendary Tajik General Ahmad Shah Masoud.
The other prominent contenders are President Hamid Karzai's elder brother Qayum Karzai, former Finance Minister and Karzai's Economic Advisor, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, till now Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, Karzai's Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul and Ex-Mujahideen and controversial fundamentalist Salafi leader Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf.
Incidentally, King Zahir Shah's grandson Hamidullah Qadri has also filed his nomination.
A very hard bargaining and horse trading was witnessed before several candidates, including Qayum Karzai, Ashraf Ghani, Gen. Wardak, Zalmai Rasoul and Gen. Dostum filed their nominations on the last day.
Uzbek strongman General Dostum, who had earlier been a part of the Afghan Electoral Alliance led by Dr. Abdullah, switched sides at the last moment, and, is now the running mate as First Vice President to Ashraf Ghani.
Zalmai Rasoul who held important positions under Karzai as Foreign Minister and was the country's National Security Advisor, resigned as Foreign Minster to contest the presidential polls. Gen. Rahim Wardak had earlier resigned as Defence Minister.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist, gave a tough fight and scare to Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections, garnering over 30 percent of the votes, and preventing Karzai from winning on the first count.
He, however, opted out of the second phase, accusing Karzai and his administration of rigging the elections heavily.
Dr. Abdullah has close connections with India, as his family lived in Delhi throughout Afghanistan's troubled times. His daughters had their entire education in India. Dr. Abdullah was with Ahmad Shah Masoud when he was attacked by a Taliban suicide squad and had him airlifted to the Indian medical facility at Armi in Tajikistan where he breathed his last.
Dr. Abdullah has already fired the first salvo by warning President Karzai and his government to "keep their hands off".
He said, 'they can have their views and choices, but everything has to remain focused on the democratic system....the system should take over and function'.
Dr. Abdullah claims his team has a national base with support cutting across the ethnic divisions.
Being half-Tajik and half-Pushtun (his mother is Pushtun), he is acceptable to both major ethnic groups. His running mate for the First Vice President is a Hazara- Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, who has a vast following among the ethnic Shia Hazara community populating the central highlands, including Bamiyan, Ghazni and Dayikundi provinces.
Mohaqiq is a staunch opponent of the Taliban and survived a fatal attack only last month. Abdullah's second Vice President is a Pushtun belonging to the Hezab-e-Islami party headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
On their policy front Dr. Abdullah has reiterated his commitment to uphold the rule of law and determined to eliminate corruption.
Criticizing the Karzai administration, he pointed out that even the judiciary, the strongest pillar of democracy, has been subverted. He said the Chief Justice is holding on to his post illegitimately, having exceeded his term by three years.
On the security situation, Abdullah said, 'we want peace, durable, just and honorable peace, dignified peace, but united as Afghans'.
He claimed that some Taliban groups have sent him goodwill messages, but, he said, 'the contact should be with the High Peace Council and the Government, rather than with the individuals'.
He said in some areas they have promised not to disturb the elections. On ties with Pakistan, Dr Abdullah said, 'we want good relations, but there are grievances which need to be addressed'.
Qayum Karzai is Karzai's proxy as president, as he cannot contest for the third term under the Afghan Constitution.
Karzai's failures and also allegations of corruption against Qayum Karzai will be a big handicap for the president's brother.
He is likely to garner votes in Kandahar province, populated by his Popalzai Tribe (one of the largest tribes of which the Karzai family is the head) and also the other Pushtun provinces in the Southern and Eastern Afghanistan.
But most of the Pushtun-dominant provinces are affected by the Taliban insurgency, which is likely affect the percentage of voting in these areas.
Another powerful warlord in the fray is the Egyptian-trained cleric Islamic scholar of the Salafi thought is Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf who fought against the Russians and was very close to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
He ran training camps in 1980s and 90s backed by the Saudis for the Mujahiddeen, initially against the Russians.
He is mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report for training the mastermind of the 9/11 attack Khalid Mohammad Sheikh. Bali bombers were also trained in his camps and the entire terrorist movement in Phillipines, Abbu Sayyaf, is named after him.
He has numerous charges of human rights violations and atrocities, especially against the ethnic Hazaras who have not forgotten the atrocities he inflicted during the civil war.
The exigency of the elections has forced Sayyaf to put his milder face. Seeking to soften his conservative image, he has even promised to protect women's rights in case he is voted to power.
Sayyaf has also chosen another powerful warlord and Tajik strongman, a Shia leader from western Herat area, Ismail Khan, as his First Vice Presidential mate. Till now, Ismail Khan was Water Resources Minister in Karzai's cabinet. Sayyaf has also taken an Uzbek Abdul Wahab Erfan, as his mate for Second Vice President to gain greater acceptability.
--ANI (Posted on 10-10-2013)