“There’s no other candidate we trust,” said Ahmad Shah Sahil, the head of the Young Movement Association, which helped organize the Arghandab meeting. “We want [Karzai] to change the constitution so he can run again.”
Sahil spends his days working on a laptop plastered with a large photo of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother, who was killed in 2011. Sahil lives just a few houses down from another Karzai brother, Shah Wali, in a multimillion-dollar residential neighborhood developed by several members of the Karzai family.
Much of Kandahar bears the imprint of the family’s influence — a source of prosperity and power that many fear could be lost after next year’s election.
Sahil worries that southern Afghanistan’s Pashtuns would lose their power if a northern-born Tajik wins in April. The two ethnic groups have had a historical rivalry.
Resisting the pressure from the south could cost Karzai his tribal bona fides — the source of his family’s standing. Many of the leaders demanding an extension of his presidency played a critical role in keeping him in power over the past decade.
“If the conditions are like this, there might be an election in the cities, but there could not be transparent or clear elections elsewhere,” said Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, a former governor of Helmand and one of the country’s most influential tribal leaders. “I believe it would be appropriate to delay the election for two or three years until there is a proper situation.”
In 2009, Taliban violence and intimidation kept many Afghans away from the polls. The Pashtuns in the south say they were disproportionately affected because of the insurgency’s power in Kandahar and Helmand. Four years later, they say, the situation remains unchanged.
“If elections are held, the Taliban will silence the Pashtun vote. We must delay,” said Haji Agha Lai, the head of Kandahar’s provincial council.
But others say that security has improved and that such a justification for an election delay is merely a cover for Pashtun political interests. U.S. officials say security is good enough to allow for fair elections.
Joshua Partlow and Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.