Afghan President Hamid Karzai has forced his older brother, Qayum, out of the race to succeed him just a month before voters head to the polls, a move his administration would have us believe is intended to bestow legitimacy on the government in Kabul. After all, the international community did throw a fit in 2009 when reports of ballot-stuffing and other shady election-rigging tactics were widely circulated. But zero-sum ethnic politics and preservation of the status quo — including his own outsized influence and wealth — are surely also among the president’s motives here, as nixing his brother’s candidacy paves the way for former Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul to unify ethnic Pashtuns in his own camp, and thus prevent any major shift in the balance of power in the bitterly divided country. Still plagued by violence that could get worse when Western forces pull out later this year, Afghanistan’s elites (including, of course, Karzai and other members of the political class and the Pashtuns that have benefited under his government) want to make sure their system doesn’t have any glaring democratic deficiencies and would rather game the math of ethnic politics than suffer a fresh round of condemnations from abroad.
VISUAL CONTEXT: Pashtuns are a force in Afghanistan and throughout the region
The latest reports suggest Qayum Karzai will formally throw his support behind Rassoul as soon as Thursday, signaling to Pashtuns who their horse is in this race and likely making life a bit more difficult for genuine alternatives like Abdullah Abdullah, an outsider with support in the north of the country, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister. A recent poll had Abdullah and Ghani both well over 20 percent and poised to make a serious run, but that was before this latest round of Pashtun maneuvering. Once the dust settles, chances are the math will be in Karzai’s favor again, especially if his officials grease the wheels (albeit in less outrageous fashion) as they head toward the exits.