Karzai offers govt jobs to rivals

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will win next week's presidential election and will offer government positions to his top two challengers.

Karzai's announcement seemed designed to offer a pre-election deal to his main rivals and head off any tension after the vote at a time when large parts of Afghanistan are embroiled in an insurgency.

Afghans vote next Thursday for president, their second-ever direct presidential election. More than 100,000 international troops and 175,000 Afghan forces are deployed to provide security.

Karzai is the leading candidate in a crowded field of three dozen contenders hoping to win a five-year term. He is trailed by his former foreign and finance ministers, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.

Karzai said that if he wins, "I will invite Dr. Abdullah, I will invite Ashraf Ghani, give them food and tea and give them jobs, as I did last time."

A spokesman for Abdullah's campaign said the people, not Karzai, will decide who wins and forms the government.

"Let's wait for next week's polling day and see the election results," spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki said.

Ghani's campaign team said it rejects any pre-election deal with Karzai.

A week before the vote, there are fears that election tensions could boil over into street violence if presidential losers allege fraud. Opposition candidates have been accusing Karzai and his team of using state resources to ensure re-election.

While Karzai is leading in the polls, the latest public opinion surveys show him at under 50 percent support. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on Aug. 20, the top two finishers will have a run-off. That could open the possibility of a coalition uniting around a single candidate to try to defeat Karzai.

Most of the country's most violent regions — in the south and the east — are where the country's ethnic Pashtuns live. Karzai, himself a Pashtun, could see his returns lowered if insurgent violence keeps Afghans there from voting.

The situation is also deteriorating in the north, where gunmen clashed with police shortly before a motorcade of Afghanistan's former President Burhanuddin Rabbani reached that spot in Kunduz province's Ali Abad district, police said.

No one in the motorcade was injured, said Abdul Razaq Yaqoubi, the provincial police chief. He said he did not believe Rabbani was the target. Rabbani is campaigning on behalf of Abdullah, Sancharaki said.

The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the vote and warned people to stay away from polling centers on election day.

Afghan journalists in central Ghazni province received a letter from the Taliban on Thursday in which the militants threatened shopkeepers to keep their businesses closed for three days before the vote. The letter also asked students to not go to school and warned people not to get anywhere close to polling centers.

The president said the people should come out and vote despite the Taliban threats.

"Even if there are a hundred explosions, we will go out and cast our votes," Karzai said Thursday.

Karzai spoke at a gathering of female supporters on the capital's outskirts. Some of the teachers present said their school principal asked them to attend.

Shekeba Ahmadi, a teacher from Kabul, thought she was going to a seminar. Wahida, another teacher who gave only one name, said their principal had ordered them to come. None would identify their schools for fear of retribution.