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Karzai says he's considering early presidential election

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that he's considering moving the election for his successor up by a year to avoid complicating the drawdown of U.S.-led NATO forces due to be completed by the end of 2014.

It remained unclear, however, whether Karzai would shift the contest to 2013, because that would apparently require him to resign before his second five-year term ends in May 2014.

Abdullah Ahmadzai, a senior official with the country’s Independent Election Commission, told McClatchy that there are no provisions in the Afghan constitution for holding an early presidential election and that only Karzai's resignation could clear the way.

"There is one provision in the law and that is if the president resigns. Upon his resignation, an early election can be held. Otherwise, we don't see a legal way for it," Ahmadzai said.

Some U.S. officials and independent experts have been concerned about holding the election in 2014 at the same time that most U.S.-led international troops are expected to be leaving. Such a convergence, they worry, would create an operational and logistical nightmare that places undue stress on Afghan security forces in their battle to contain the Taliban-led insurgency.

The 2009 presidential election and 2010 parliamentary contests saw major surges in insurgent attacks, but there were more than 100,000 international troops on hand to back up Afghan security forces.

Karzai, appearing at a news conference with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the president’s fortified palace, voiced his own concerns over holding the presidential election as the bulk of the U.S.-led NATO contingent leaves.

"With all the changes that are taking place with the complete return of international forces to their homes from Afghanistan and the holding of a presidential election at the same time," Karzai said, there are questions over "whether that will be an agenda that we can handle."

"Should we allow the transitionto complete itself in 2014 but bring the presidential election one year earlier to 2013? This is a question that I have had and I have raised it with my inner circle," Karzai said.

According to the Afghan constitution, the election should be held two months before the president's term ends in May 2014. Karzai was re-elected in a fraud-riddled 2009 contest and is barred from seeking a third term.

"The electoral law and the constitution are very clear about the presidential election. The law has set five years for the president. The president's term will not end in 2013 unless he resigns," Ahmadzai said.

As yet, there are no officially declared candidates seeking to succeed Karzai. Among the possible contenders are Karzai's older brother, Abdul Qayum Karzai, and Ali Ahmad Jalali, who served as the country's second post-Taliban interior minister. Both are U.S. citizens.

Karzai said he hasn't yet made a final decision on whether to move up the election.

The United States and its allies plan to withdraw most of their remaining 130,000 troops by the end of 2014 at the conclusion of a phased transition of security responsibilities to Afghan security forces. Some 10,000 U.S. forces left last year, and another 20,000 are due to go home this year.

Rasmussen said that the plan remains on track.

"Our goal is an Afghanistan with Afghans fully in charge of their own security by the end of 2014," Rasmussen said. "That goal remains unchanged, that timetable remains unchanged and our commitment to our partnership with the Afghan people beyond 2014 remains strong."

NATO members will decide at a summit in Chicago next month on the makeup of a post-2014 force that could comprise as many as 30,000 U.S. troops focused mainly on training and advising Afghan security forces, and pursuing al Qaida terrorists.

"We will hand over full responsibility for security to the Afghan security forces, but we will continue to help, to support the Afghan security forces. We will not leave a security vacuum," Rasmussen said.

The United States and Afghanistan are expected to sign a long-term strategic partnership agreement ahead of the summit.

(Ali Safi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.)


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