KABUL, Afghanistan — The campaign to succeed Afghan President
The aides to Abdullah Abdullah, a prominent opposition politician who was runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 election, were shot and killed by unknown gunmen outside a campaign office where they had just concluded a meeting Saturday evening, officials in Herat said.
The killings cast an immediate shadow over the campaign for the April 5 election, a crucial test of the Afghan government’s ability to manage a stable transfer of political power as U.S.-led
Eleven candidates are running to replace Karzai, who has led Afghanistan for 13 years but has clashed bitterly with his American backers in recent months. Karzai, who is barred by law from seeking another term, has accused the U.S. government of trying to undermine Afghan institutions and delayed signing a bilateral security pact that could see some U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan past 2014 to conduct military training and counterterrorism operations.
As campaign posters began popping up across Kabul, Abdullah was widely seen as one of the front-runners, given the 31% of the vote he received in 2009 and his strong support among ethnic Tajiks in northern Afghanistan. Another leading candidate is Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who leads an influential committee charged with overseeing the security transition from NATO to Afghan forces.
Although no group immediately claimed responsibility for Saturday's slayings, Taliban insurgents have vowed to derail the election.
Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah's political organization, the National Coalition of Afghanistan, said the victims — Faiz Ahmad Hamdard, a campaign manager, and his 19-year-old driver — had been threatened "many, many times" by text message and phone calls over the past week.
"We see it as a great loss," Sancharaki said.
Hamdard was a senior aide to Abdullah in Herat, heading 12 campaign offices in the western province, Sancharaki said. His driver, Shujahee, who like many Afghans uses just one name, was a nephew of legendary Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who helped lead the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, fighting alongside Abdullah.
"This [cowardly] action constitutes a violent intimidation of electoral candidates and their supporters, and cannot be tolerated," Kubis said.
Other candidates vying to succeed Karzai include his elder brother,