KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — There is a lot riding on Afghanistan's 2014 presidential elections, which will determine who steers the country through the persistent insurgency as international troops leave. But potential voters lining up to register have other concerns as well: They deeply distrust the candidates and are worried their next president could be a warlord.
The 11 presidential hopefuls in the April 5 vote are a mixed bag. They include Ashraf Ghani, an economist and former World Bank official — as well as Abdur Rasool Sayyaf, a friend of Osama bin Laden's and the inspiration for the Indonesian terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
Also among those running are: President Hamid Karzai's brother, a former foreign minister, a former defense minister, a former provincial governor and even the former lieutenant of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a wanted terrorist.
Barred by the Afghan constitution from seeking another term, Karzai is not in the running. His successor will lead a hoped-for transition from war to peace as international troops leave, even as the insurgency rages in the east and south of the country. A first priority will be to work out a complex deal with Washington over keeping U.S. trainers for the Afghan military, a task Karzai has left to the next president.
Afghans also worry the voting will see the same alleged widespread fraud that tainted the last presidential elections, in 2009, when Karzai won a second term — emblematic of corruption that is a top complaint for many in the country.
Khairullah Khaksar, 24, waited his turn to have his picture taken for his voter card at a registration station in a Kabul school. He said he was still mulling over whether to vote, unhappy with the selection and fearful of fraud. He registered for the 2009 election — but he didn't cast a ballot.
"There was no one honest in the running," he said. Like many, he wished Afghanistan could see the end of domination by powerful warlords. "It seems the country is being run by mafias and warlords," said Khaksar, sitting in a tall-backed chair covered with a white cloth, where he would be photographed for his card.
Raising fraud concerns, many people have registration cards from previous elections, but are applying for new ones — opening the possibility that multiple cards could be used to cast multiple votes. Among the small line of people at the registration station Monday, several said they had registered two or three times previously.
Still, those in line held out hope elections would bring change. Fazil Uddin, a bicycle repairman, called Karzai weak and said he was eyeing the list of candidates looking for someone who could rule with a strong hand.
Registering for the first time, Saheel Saradhi, 19, said he was proud of his card and would vote. "To stop the suffering and killing of innocent Afghans that has gone on for the last 30 years we should choose a good leader who is not a criminal or a warlord," he said.
Here's a gallery of images from a Kabul station registering voters.
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Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed at: https://twitter.com/Kathygannon
Photographer Anja Niedringhaus can be followed at: https://twitter.com/NiedringhausAP