MAIMANEH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - One of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s main rivals denied reports on Saturday that he had agreed to withdraw from the August 20 election and accept a leadership post under Karzai.
Afghan and Western media have speculated that former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, seen as one of two leading challengers to the president, might pull out of the vote and accept a senior administrative post to help Karzai win.
“I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” Ghani told reporters in Maimaneh, capital of northern Faryab province.
“I intensely disagree with the course of conduct that Mr Karzai and his entourage have adopted during the last five years,” he said.
But he did not rule out a return to government in future, if allowed to implement his plans.
“There would have to be very very firm commitments, time-bound set of activities, full embracement of the program that I’ve articulated for the next 10 years.”
Ghani took a swipe at Karzai’s tactic of relying on the support of ethnic chieftains, many of whom led armed factions during decades of civil war.
“The problem is that this government has turned into a contract among ethnic entrepreneurs,” Ghani said.
“There are a number of people who in the name of being Pashtun or Hazara or Uzbek or other groups come and claim to speak for them. They don’t speak for these people. They haven’t done anything to change the lives of these people,” he said.
Ghani, who was finance minister under Karzai from 2002 to 2004, was visiting the predominantly ethnic-Uzbek city of Maimaneh to rally support for his presidential campaign but his rallerallyy attracted only about 150-200 followers.
Posters of Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum hung throughout the city, showing the extent of the challenge Ghani faces.
Dostum, a former guerrilla fighter notorious for making and breaking alliances, won 10 percent of the total vote in the last election in 2004 by sweeping Uzbek areas. He has asked his followers to back Karzai this time around.
“In Faryab, whoever Dostum votes for, we’ll follow his word. Dostum is our heart, he is our kidneys...whoever Dostum votes for, we’ll vote the same,” said 21-year old passerby Sayed Rahmatollah.
Like Karzai, Ghani is a Pashtun, from Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group who have traditionally led the country.
In the 2004 election, Karzai swept Pashtun areas, while the only rivals to achieve more than two percent of the vote were Dostum and two other ethnic minority candidates who primarily won support among their groups.
But Ghani was confident his plans of job creation, infrastructure development and enfranchisement of the poor, youth and women, would transcend Dostum’s grip on Faryab.
“Absolutely. Faryab is a microcosm of national unity. You see Turkomens, Uzbeks, you see Pahstuns you see Dari speakers, etc.” Ghani said.
Editing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan