Afghan presidential candidate eager to keep U.S. troops


Abdullah Abdullah, who finished second in Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election, is confident he can win enough ballots on April 5 to avoid a runoff and sign a deal “within a month” to keep U.S. troops in the country. “God willing, we will have an election which will purely reflect the outcome of Afghans votes and it won’t go to the second round,” Abdullah, 53, said in an interview on March 28 during a campaign stop in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when asked about his chances. “I’m not that much concerned about other candidates.” Abdullah is one of several leading contenders to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign an agreement to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year. The Taliban, which lost power after the U.S. invasion in 2001, has sought to disrupt the vote with attacks on police outposts, election offices and establishments frequented by foreigners.

As Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a veteran of the jihad against Soviet occupation and a hardline Islamist once close to al-Qaeda, steps to the microphone through a phalanx of armed guard the crowd of 5000 takes up a familiar cry. One man raises his fist and shouts: “Death to America, death to England.” Hundreds of hands are thrust into the air as the response echoes around the rally in Parwan province, all captured on video. “Death, death, death,” they shout. Sayyaf is the man who invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan. “He will not win but he will be one of the next on the list,” he said. Although unlikely to win he would garner decisive votes to put behind one of the two candidates that make it to a run-off, according to Fabrizio Foschini, of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. “That means his part in a run-off will be very important.”

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