Campaigning has officially opened in Afghanistan’s presidential election, with 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai in polls seen as a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable political transition.
The April 5 presidential vote will be held in a climate of uncertainty as Nato combat forces prepare their withdrawal at the end of 2014.
If successful, the election will usher in the first handover from one elected president to another in Afghan history.
Mr Karzai, who has led Afghanistan for more than 13 years after the intervention to oust the Taliban’s extremist Islamic regime for sheltering al-Qaida’s leadership after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
The election faces many hurdles – allegations of vote-rigging marred the 2009 election and security is a major concern. The eventual winner will face the tough task of continuing to fight the Taliban insurgency, overseeing the end to the international coalition’s mission in the country and possibly deciding if any residual foreign forces will remain next year.
The spectre of violence hangs over the campaign season, with the Taliban vowing to disrupt the poll.