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Karzai’s onetime foreign minister, who ran against him in the 2009 election, Abdullah has been mentioned by the president as a possible candidate. After securing roughly 30 percent of the vote in 2009, he emerged as the leader of the opposition, a role many say he has failed to capitalize on. Given his lack of a clear constituency, the coalition that brought Abdullah votes five years ago is now divided and frustrated with what they see as his premature announcements in private gatherings.
A well-regarded cabinet minister whose relationship with Karzai has soured in recent years, Atmar, after resigning from the cabinet in 2010, established the Right and Justice Party and has tried to take a moderate stance between the government and the opposition. More recently, with Karzai privately expressing strong opposition to an Atmar candidacy, he has attempted to position himself as the Pashtun figure around whom opposition groups can rally.
A renowned academic who has served as the county's finance minister and now leads the security transition, he is seen as a competent manager with a clear vision Afghanistan. Described as temperamental by those who've worked with him, Ghani ran a highly negative campaign — advised by U.S. Democratic strategist James Carville — against Karzai in 2009. While Ghani secured just 3 percent of the vote, his sharp criticism has left Karzai, who is worried about his own immunity, distrustful.
He has tried to position himself as a natural successor to his younger brother, Hamid, who has publicly urged Qayum not to run. Qayum Karzai will struggle to win over the leaders of two important constituencies: the ethnic Hazaras and Uzbeks. Both have proved instrumental in previous elections. After bitter experiences with Hamid Karzai in the 2009 election, General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Haji Mohamed Mohaqeq, who hold considerable sway over the Uzbeks and Hazaras, respectively, have privately said they will not back another Karzai. Qayoum’s name is rarely raised anymore, but some analysts still think he may have a chance in the unlikely event that Hamid Karzai succumbs to family pressure and endorses him.
Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayaf
The former Jihadi leader is one of four people who, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suggested in private, could become the country's next leader. But Sayaf would be a controversial choice. A staunch opponent of the Soviet-backed communist regime, he was the primary contact during the 1970s and '80s for Arab fighters who entered Afghanistan to join the Mujahideen cause. These fighters included Osama bin Laden and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. Afghan human-rights groups see Sayaf as a primary perpetrator of violence in the country after the fall of the communists. "If someone like Sayaf emerges as the leading candidate, then it will raise some serious questions about what we have done over the past decade," said an official with close ties to Sayaf, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Rassoul, the country's 70-year-old foreign minister, has long avoided the spotlight. But reputation for being a manager who is comfortable delegating could turn into an asset if Rassoul can win Karzai’s backing and build coalitions with strongmen who can rally votes, as he does not have a natural constituency. "He seems to be in a good position with little doing of his own," said a source close to him. "So if he cannot pass the test of working with others now, he does not deserve to be president."