Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghan Presidential Candidates Debate

Afghanistan's presidential election campaign officially kicked off on February 2.
Afghanistan's presidential election campaign officially kicked off on February 2.
Candidates in Afghanistan's upcoming presidential election have taken part in the first debate of the campaign.

Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani, Zalmi Rasool, Qayum Karzai, and Rahim Wardak debated peace talks with the Taliban as well as a security pact with the United States.

Karzai told reporters after the debate that he backed talks with the Taliban.

"We need a natural mediator to resolve the differences between the government and the opposition and that starts for bringing people to participate, and the elders, the ulama, the young people, the educated people, the businesspeople to come up with the peace plan," Karzai said, "and we will organize this in the form of the Loya Jirga" -- a grand assembly -- "and shura" -- or decision-making council.

Rasool said he backed signing the security pact with Washington.

"Of course everybody is worried [about the signing of security pact], but I am personally confident that it will not reach that point. The security agreement will be signed. I hope it will be signed before the election," Rasool said.

The security pact between Kabul and Washington would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 when international troops are set to leave. So far, President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign it, putting up a number of conditions.

The debate on February 4 in Kabul was broadcast by Tolo TV, a private channel in the Afghan capital.

Akhtar Mohammad, a resident of Kabul, was among those watching.

"We want our future president, whoever it would be, to bring us peace and security and also pave the ground for education of our young generation," Mohammad said.

Campaigning for Afghanistan's presidential election officially kicked off on February 2.

Karzai, who has led the country since a UN-backed deal was struck in the wake of the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban in late 2001, is barred by term limits from seeking a third term.

Eleven candidates are running in the election.

There is no clear front-runner.

The Taliban has rejected the April 5 election and has stepped up attacks in an effort to sabotage it.

Analysts say the vote is crucial to the future of Afghanistan.

Billions of dollars in foreign aid are tied to the government's holding a free and fair election -- the first independent vote organized by Afghanistan without direct foreign assistance.

Based on AP and Reuters reporting