KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Representatives of a powerful former Pashtun warlord said Tuesday that he endorsed the front runner in Afghanistan's coming presidential runoff election.
The announcement by those representing Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf came during a campaign rally for front runner and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah at a wedding hall in the Afghan capital, Kabul. In a speech, Abdullah thanked Sayyaf, who didn't attend, for his support and promised to make up for time lost after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban.
"People expect us to honestly serve the nation," Abdullah said.
Abdullah is the front runner for the June 14 runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the first round of elections April 5, Abdullah garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.
Sayyaf was a warlord during the country's 1990s civil war and there have been allegations of him having past links to radical jihadists including Osama bin Laden. As a Pashtun and charismatic speaker, he may appeal to Afghanistan's large number of religious conservatives.
His support also helps Abdullah, 53, as he has both Pashtun and Tajik parentage, something that made some Pashtuns nervous about voting for him in a country where ethnic ties remain incredibly important to many. Pashtuns are the country's largest ethnic group.
Sayyaf ran in the first round and got 7.1 percent of the vote.
During the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, Abdullah served as adviser to and spokesman for Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.
In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media. He served as foreign minister and then was the runner-up in President Hamid Karzai's disputed re-election in 2009.
Whoever wins the June 14 vote will replace Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. They'll also face the withdrawal of foreign troops at the end of the year and attacks from the Taliban.