KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The elder brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday he dropped out of the country's April 5 presidential election to leave the field open to a candidate that he hoped would steer the nation through a "dignified" transition.
In an interview with The Associated Press, businessman Qayyum Karzai said he believed the majority of voters remained undecided in the upcoming election. He said he's thrown his support behind former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul as a means to unify a country battered by 35 years of war.
"Overall I think that the people themselves have matured enormously in politics," Karzai said. "They know exactly who is who and so my trust is in the people."
Karzai is the elder brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has served two, five-year terms and now is barred by law from running again. Qayyum Karzai dropped out of the election earlier this week.
Karzai said Friday he supported Rassoul for his moderate views. Both men are ethnic Pashtuns, who dominate the south and the east of Afghanistan, and they likely would have divided the vote between them.
Rassoul is a loyalist of Afghanistan's former King Zahir Shah. Karzai described king's 40-year rule Friday as last time the country enjoyed a protracted period of peace and relative stability.
"I think that the moderate persuasion has enormous appeal and it should because we have suffered from the politics of the right and the politics of the left" since the king's ouster in 1973, Karzai said. "I wanted this moderate persuasion to win the elections and I found Zalmai Rassoul to be the most suitable person to lead the country."
A 1973 coup toppled Shah, the last king of Afghanistan. In later years, the Soviet Union would invade the country, sparking a bloody insurgency. Warlords then took over parts of the country until the rise of the Taliban in 1996.
Karzai's brother became president after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Karzai said he shared a "close, brotherly relationship" with him, but acknowledged they didn't agree on everything. The comments come as the president has declined to sign an agreement with the U.S. to allow their troops to remain past a deadline at the end of this year.
"There was no national alternative in place and to bring all the elements of the Afghan society together. I think he has done a remarkable, remarkable job," Karzai said. "Things could have been done better (but) with hindsight everybody would say that but I know how hard the unfolding political realities were in Afghanistan when he started and as he pushed forward."
Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kathygannon.