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.
As he mused over giving up his bid to succeed his brother, businessman Qayyum Karzai said in an interview with The Associated Press that he places his hopes for the future of battered nation in what he believes is the moderate majority among the population. In the race, he is now throwing his support behind former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.
Moderates are a "huge, huge bloc of votes," he said. "Overall I think that the people themselves have matured enormously in politics ... They know exactly who is who, and so my trust is in the people."
But he said they are largely undecided — they are "sargardan," he said, using a Farsi word meaning their "heads are spinning" from the country's chaos.
Karzai is the elder brother of Hamid Karzai, who has served two, five-year terms as president and now is barred by law from running again.
Qayyum Karzai, who announced his withdrawal earlier this week, 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.
Hamid Karzai became president after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. On Thursday, he said he had encouraged his brother's withdrawal from the race "to smoothen the election," hinting that having another Karzai run would raise problems internationally.
Qayyum said he shared a "close, brotherly relationship" with Hamid. In the interview, the soft-spoken businessman spoke of the Afghanistan of their childhood, seeming protective of his younger brother. At times he spoke hesitantly, seeming to choose his words carefully about his views of Karzai's presidency.
He said they didn't agree on everything, but he said any leader would have faced monumental tasks stepping in after the Taliban's 2001 fall.
"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 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.