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Senior Afghan Opposition Figure To Back Karzai In Poll

Former Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim
KABUL (Reuters) -- A senior member of Afghanistan's main opposition has pledged to support President Hamid Karzai in August's presidential election, a party official has said, in a move seen as a blow to its hopes of unseating him.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim was the military chief of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, which drove the militants out of Kabul with the aid of U.S. air power in 2001, when Karzai took office under an internationally negotiated deal.

He served as defense minister and as a deputy to Karzai for several years until Karzai dropped him from his winning ticket in the first direct presidential vote in Afghan history in 2004.

The burly Fahim became a founding member of the National Front, formed two years ago as a bloc to oppose Karzai.

His departure from the from the party, which includes key current and former members of Karzai's government, comes amid reports that some other officials of the alliance have also voiced support for the incumbent in the August 20 poll.

Fazel Sangcharaki, spokesman for the front, confirmed Fahim's decision but did not comment further.

"He has gone to Karzai's side," Sangcharaki told Reuters.

Karzai has strongly hinted that he would stand for office again, but has yet to name candidates for two deputies to stand alongside him on his ticket.

Karzai is a member of Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Drafting the support of Fahim could help the president win votes among Fahim's fellow Tajiks, the second-largest group.

Official nominations for the election will start next week and so far at least a dozen people, including technocrats, former ministers and a commander of one of the former armed factions have showed a desire to run against Karzai.

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission this week said that warlords and those who have committed human rights violations in the past three decades should be barred from running either for president or the two deputy posts.