Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan's Future Murkier as Karzai Disavows Third Term

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan's Future Murkier as Karzai Disavows Third Term

Article excerpt

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai announced yesterday he would not run in 2014 elections. Meanwhile, Taliban peace talks aimed at a final political settlement have reportedly stalled.

The shape of Afghanistan's future remains murkier than ever this week after an announcement by President Hamid Karzai that he would not run for reelection and a report claiming the Taliban peace talks have stalled.

Mr. Karzai told lawmakers Thursday that "the constitution of Afghanistan does not allow anyone to run for the presidency for more than two terms" and so he "will not try to run for the presidency for the third time," according to a statement from his office. Political rivals have long suspected that Karzai would try to engineer an illegal third term, which would spark further instability.

Many Afghans are unlikely, however, to be convinced by this pledge. Karzai has a habit of stepping back from dramatic pronouncements. And this one involves an election light years away in Afghan political time.

"Those who are suspicious of him and what he's trying to do won't necessarily be reassured by a statement three years before the election," says Martine van Bijlert, codirector of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. She says it might rather be a goodwill gesture to the incoming US ambassador after a long era of US-Afghan tensions.

A lot could happen by 2014. The US plans to mostly withdraw by that date, but also seeks a controversial long-term agreement on military bases. Another major uncertainty is whether a peace deal with the Taliban ever materializes and, if it does, which Afghan factions and governments in the region would respect it.

Given these looming uncertainties, Afghanistan's elite are less focused on day-to-day concerns than jockeying for position ahead of the future power shifts.

"A lot of people are much more concerned with long-term processes," says Ms. van Bijlert. She says political players are asking themselves, "In the longer term, who is going to be on top, and how can I make sure I'm not the one who can be kicked down in this whole process?"

She interprets the recent wave of assassinations, and the fear they have engendered, as part of these political calculations and rivalries. …

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