| ||Karzai ambassador Omar Dawoodzai says he is preparing to run for president|
Times of London
By Francis Elliott
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Islamabad - Hamid Karzai’s former chief of staff today becomes the first major political figure to declare his intention to replace the President as Afghanistan’s leader.
Omar Dawoodzai, the country’s ambassador to Pakistan, has said that he is preparing to launch his campaign for the presidential elections due next year. In an interview in his residence in Islamabad, Mr Dawoodzai said he would campaign on a manifesto of maintaining good relations with the West, anti-corruption reforms, eradication of poppy-growing and a shift of power away from the group of ageing former warlords who have run the country since 2001.
Mr Dawoodzai, 55, was named in a 2010 report, confirmed by Mr Karzai, as a recipient of bags of “aid” cash sent by the Iranian Government to bankroll the Afghan leader. But despite his strong links with Tehran, where he also served as an ambassador, he is viewed as a moderating influence by the West.
“We have done good things together in the past 11 or 12 years. There is huge change and we have laid down foundations in many areas and that should continue but with very serious reforms,” he said. “There would be zero tolerance in two areas — corruption and poppy-growing. These two are the source of all evils, including terrorism. If we do well in curbing corruption and eradicating poppy-growing we have already defeated terrorism.”
Candidates must declare their interest by September for the poll scheduled for April 5 next year. Mr Dawoodzai, who has to quit his official post when he formally declares, says he is happy to be considered “an option” until then.
“I know what fate is waiting for people who become Number One in Afghanistan. But I have a national obligation and I’m under pressure from my conscience and like-minded people and that pressure convinced me that I should agree to become an option for a candidate.”
Haroun Mir, an Afghan political analyst, said: “He is the sort of man who can attract support across ethnic groups. In his ten years or so in the palace he managed to avoid making enemies or taking extreme positions.”
A Western diplomat said that Nato countries “wouldn’t be aghast” at a Dawoodzai presidency but expressed doubts about the strength of his grassroots support.
Mr Karzai reached an agreement with Nato forces yesterday over withdrawal from Wardak province. Troops will withdraw from one district immediately, with others to follow over the coming months.