Karzai pulls out of Afghanistan's first televised presidential debate

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Kabul, July 24 (ANI): President Hamid Karzai has pulled out of Afghanistan's first televised presidential debate, which was to take place on Friday, saying he did not have time to prepare.

According to CBS News, Karzai was to engage in a two-hour-long debate with two of his closest rivals -- former top World Bank official Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah on prime time television.

It was to be modeled on the style of U.S. presidential debates i.e. having the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai, take on his two main rivals.

Ghani and Abdullah have used the occasion leading up to the cancelled debate to highlight the high civilian casualties under Karzai's rule, and added that this was the primary reason for Afghan's opposition to foreign forces in the country - most of whom are Americans.

Despite the criticism, President Obama's special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, said the American presence is important, pointing to the on-going operation in Helmand.

Presidential elections are to take place on August 20. Karzai has been accused of running a lackluster campaign, but is still widely expected to come out on top. His no-show at the debate may not have even hurt his chances significantly.

Relations between Karzai and the U.S. are at a low point, with members of the Obama administration openly referring to Karzai's government as inefficient and corrupt.

To boost his re-election chances, Karzai has made questionable deals with former warlords - even selecting one as his running mate. That comes on top of the president pardoning five influential drug smugglers.

On June 27, Karzai hit back at the criticism from Washington, complaining about the American ambassador's attendance at a press conference of his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai said it amounted to foreign interference in the electoral process.

American Ambassador Karl Eikenberry argued that he's met many of the 41 presidential candidates and said the U.S. government is not picking favorites - merely supporting the election process.

Whether the debate will have the same impact on the Afghanistan's voters as political debates can in America is unclear. Democracy is still very much an experiment in the country. (ANI)

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