KABUL: Afghanistan’s former defense minister says he is withdrawing his candidacy for president in the upcoming election to be held on April 5. Rahim Wardak told reporters Sunday that he was not supporting any other candidate nor did he give a reason for pulling out of the race. He was not considered a front runner.
Wardak, a veteran military and political operator, has been a senior advisor to President Hamid Karzai, but he failed to make any impact in the election campaign ahead of voting on April 5.
The withdrawal leaves nine presidential candidates still in the running to replace President Hamid Karzai, who is banned from seeking a third term in office under the country’s constitution. Karzai ruled Afghanistan since 2001.
Karzai’s elder brother Qayyum Karzai withdrew his name earlier this month. The elder Karzai threw his support behind Zalmai Rassoul, considered one of the leading candidates. The three leading names are former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in 2009, and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani.
On Sunday Wardak declined to publicly endorse another candidate, though analysts say he could back Rassoul, who is increasingly seen as having the implicit support of the outgoing president.
“Our campaign was not vigorous from the very beginning,” Wardak, 68, told a press conference in Kabul.
“Today I announce that, without joining any other teams, I withdraw from the presidential election candidacy.
“Reaching power has never been my target (and) I will always remain at my nation’s service.”
Wardak, from the Pashtun ethnic group like Karzai and Rassoul, was a guerrilla commander in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
He served as defence minister from 2004 until 2012 when he was ousted over cross-border rocket attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
US-led NATO combat troops are leaving after 13 years of fighting the Taleban insurgency that erupted when the Islamists were thrown out of power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
The Taleban last week vowed to target the election, urging fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces.
While all remaining 53,000 NATO combat troops will depart by December, a small US force may be deployed from 2015 on counter-terrorism and training operations if the next president signs a security deal with Washington.
Billions of dollars of aid money has been spent in Afghanistan, but the country remains crippled by poverty and violence, with weak government structures and a fragile economy dependent on cash from donor nations.