Afghanistan's Karzai contemplates early elections

President Karzai (left) with Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen  Both Mr Karzai (left) and Mr Rasmussen paid tribute to the warmth of Afghan-Nato relations

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he is considering either bringing forward the 2014 date for presidential elections or speeding up the handover of security to his forces.

The president told a briefing that he had been thinking about such a move for several months.

He also said he hoped that Afghan forces would be retained at their current strength at least until 2015.

The president held talks on Thursday with Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Speaking about bring forward the election to 2013 or speeding up the transition, the president said that no decision had been taken and it would "not be made soon".

"I have been talking about this for a few months now," President Karzai said.

"With all the changes that are taking place - with the complete return of international forces to their homes from Afghanistan and the holding of the presidential election at the same time - whether that will be an agenda that we can handle at the same time.

"It is a question that I've had and I've frequently raised it in my inner circle."

Start Quote

We will not abandon Afghanistan after 2014. We will stay and assist. Nato is here as Afghanistan's partner”

End Quote Anders Fogh Rasmussen Nato Secretary General

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says this is the first time the president has spoken in public about the timing of the vote, which is a contentious issue. One of his chief rivals, Abdullah Abdullah, has been critical of such a move.

Our correspondent says it seems likely that the president wants the vote to be held with security provided by Nato before the alliance withdraws from the country.

The president's aides insist that he has no plans of reversing an earlier decision not to stand as a candidate in the vote. Under the constitution he has to step aside after having won a second five-year term in 2009.

However some analysts say the president may still find a way of putting his name forward in the vote in the absence of any obvious successor. Our correspondent says that such a move may not be welcomed by the US and its allies, which several times over the last few years have expressed reservations about his leadership.

Relations between President Karzai and the US in particular have been strained by the killing of 15 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in March, violent protests over the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a US airbase in February and the emergence of a video in January which appeared to show US troops urinating on Taliban bodies.

Addressing a joint news conference with Mr Karzai in Kabul, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance was "on track" to hand over full responsibility for security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 as scheduled.

He said they were fully capable of taking the lead in establishing and maintaining peace in the country after Nato withdraws.

"We will not abandon Afghanistan after 2014. We will stay and assist. Nato is here as Afghanistan's partner," Mr Rasmussen said on Twitter after meeting the president.

Nato officials say they hope to build the Afghan police and army to a force of about 352,000 before scaling numbers back to about 230,000 as the security threat fades and Western financial support shrinks.

However Mr Karzai said Afghanistan would not consider reducing the number of security forces until at least 2015 or 2016, depending on the situation on the ground and the training and readiness of the armed forces.

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