(Corrects description of Sayyaf in final paragraph)
By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL Oct 6 Three men considered front runners
in Afghanistan's presidential election staged dramatic
last-minute nominations on Sunday, the start of what is expected
to be a chaotic but critical race for the palace in the first
democratic transfer of power.
The April election is considered the most crucial since the
U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, with more than
a decade of Western-led reforms resting on its outcome amid
increasing Taliban violence.
It comes during the same year as the end of the NATO-led
combat mission and will be modern Afghanistan's first democratic
handover to a new leader, with President Hamid Karzai barred by
the constitution from running for a third term.
Karzai's older brother, Qayum, former foreign minister
Zalmay Rassoul and Western-leaning intellectual Ashraf Ghani all
filed their papers in the last few hours of the three-week-long
"With the help of Almighty God and the people, we are ready
to form a government," said Qayum, who has studiously avoided
public appearances until Sunday.
There were chaotic scenes outside the Independent Election
Commission's media hall as Qayum, 56, and his entourage walked
into the building, with police barring some of his supporters
due to overcrowding.
Qayum had arrived in a convoy of dozens of armoured
four-wheel drive vehicles plastered with posters. Some of the
vehicles had government licence plates, despite Qayum holding no
He was the last the of major candidates to register,
arriving hours after Rassoul and Ghani had filed their papers.
"Afghanistan needs a change, and we will be the ones to win
this election," said Ghani, who came third in the 2009 election.
The former finance minister was accompanied by his unlikely
running mate, ethnic Uzbek warlord turned politician, Abdul
Dostum, who exerts tight control over more than a million
votes in the Uzbek north, had initially been part of a broad
anti-Karzai alliance called Etihad ("Unity").
He split from the group late last month and engaged in a
series of flirtations with pro-government candidates before
settling on Ghani.
Patrician Rassoul, flanked by at least a dozen bodyguards,
was welcomed to the hall by a line of Afghan boys and girls in
traditional clothes clutching bouquets.
All three have been separately mentioned by diplomatic
sources and the media as Karzai's favoured candidate, though he
has said repeatedly that he will not support any one person.
The leading opposition candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, and a
former Islamist warlord turned parliamentarian, Abdul Rassoul
Sayyaf, registered earlier in the week.
(Additional reporting by Dylan Welch; Writing by Dylan Welch;
Editing by Nick Macfie)