Recent reports that Abdul Qayum Karzai, a brother of President Karzai, was planning to run for president in 2014 have caused a stir.

Analysts of Afghanistan have been waiting in suspense to see whether President Karzai would select someone from his family to succeed him. A closer reading of how this story came about suggests that Karzai has probably not made a decision. The announcement is at best a trial balloon, and Karzai may not have been involved in it at all. But it may be a harbinger of the kinds of politics we'll be seeing unfold in Afghanistan.

The source of the reports appears to have been an interview on Afghanistan's Tolo TV with Mahmud Karzai, another Karzai brother, on June 10.  According to a BBC report of the Tolo interview, Mahmud said: "It is true that Qayyum Karzai is a candidate. He will soon announce his nomination." Mahmud added that he endorsed his brother's bid. Mahmud also took a dig at James Risen, the New York Times reporter who on June 3 published a lengthy account of rifts within the Karzai family. Risen had also reported that Qayum was "mulling" a presidential run. Mahumud, in the Tolo interview, denied the allegations of family squabbles and accused Risen of seeking to advance the agenda of those who want the West to leave Afghanistan, but he did confirm that Qayum was set to run.

The day after the Times article, however, the Baltimore Sun's Richard Gorelick quoted Qayum himself as saying: "What makes Jim Risen say that I'm mulling? My decision depends on truly whether I can help, but running for president for the sake of being elected is nonsense in America or Afghanistan. I'm not a politician."

Despite his affirmation that he was not a politician, Qayum's statement was a masterpiece of politician-speak. Given the ambiguity of neither deciding nor mulling nor confirming, it is not surprising that this statement did not put the story to rest.

In another report, and supposedly based on another interview with Mahmud, on June 11, RFE/RL reported that Qayum was "preparing to contest the next Afghan presidential election." Mahmud added cautiously that the President had not said yet whether he would support his brother.

That question was settled in a press conference on June 12, when the President was asked about his brother's putative candidacy. His response: "I heard yesterday that my brother Mahmood Karzai has made an announcement but Qayum himself has not said anything to me. As an Afghan individual, Mahmood has the right to express his personal view and I wouldn't take it from him but the issue of candidacy is a much broader Afghan national issue and it is possible that many candidates will come forward. Personally, I have not thought about any specific candidate to this date. I have especially not thought about the candidacy of my brother."

One cannot blame Karzai, who has proven again how shrewd a tactician he is, for his evasiveness. It is simply too early in the game for him to express a preference for anyone, even a brother. And he is far too experienced to fall into the trap of making decisions on a timetable set by the media. But it does suggest one thing: the prospective 2014 election date might be beginning to generate a new kind of politics in Afghanistan, under essentially democratic rules, with an important role for the media, and a public which is paying close attention.

Scott Smith is the deputy director of USIP's Afghanistan Program. A former U.N. official, Smith has spent an extensive amount of time living in Afghanistan and thinking about its politics and other democratization issues. He is the author of Afghanistan's Troubled Transition: Peacekeeping, Politics and the 2004 Presidential Election (2011).


Date: Friday, June 15, 2012 4:03 PM
From: Aymal Bari

Mr. Branch,

Thank you for the article, it was indeed a great article.  There have been rumors for years that the either: 

A- Hamid Karzai will change the constitution and extend his presidential term and
B- Qayum Karzai will be running for Presidency in the 2012 election

But I don't think either of them will happen.  

Qayum Karzai said it himself, he is not a Politician.  He just stepped into Ahmad Wali's Shoes after he was assassinated last year in Kandahar.  Though, many people especially in Kandahar do like him.  He is doing as much as he can in order to give back to the community, including building schools and mosques, but a Politician he is not.

One might view these "good deeds" as a tool to win votes of the people in Kandahar, but he is simply doing that because he has a good moral character, and it is in Islamic Law that you must give back to the less fortunate.

If anything, I believe that Qayum, or any Karzai for that matter would not run for Presidency, however, it is possible for him to want to be elected as a Minister, or any other high ranking government position.  

Anyway, I enjoyed your article a lot, and have forwarded it to other officials in Afghanistan.  I hope to read many more articles in the future about the subject.

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