KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother withdrew from the country's election race on Thursday, and endorsed former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul to lead the country as Nato troops leave after 13 years of fighting the Taleban.
"I and my team, we consider ourselves as a key part of this new alliance and declare my support for Doctor Zalmai Rassoul," Mr Qayum Karzai told a press conference in Kabul.
The withdrawal is a major boost to Mr Rassoul's presidential election campaign. Mr Rassoul, a softly-spoken loyalist of the current president, called a joint press conference in Kabul. "The result of negotiations on an alliance will be revealed at the press event," a spokesman for Mr Qayum Karzai told AFP.
President Karzai, who is constitutionally banned from standing again after serving two terms, has pledged not to publicly endorse any candidate in the April 5 elections. His brother's endorsement of Mr Rassoul would be widely seen as a signal that Mr Rassoul is the incumbent's favoured choice to lead Afghanistan into a testing new era, without the aid of Nato combat troops to fight the Taleban insurgents.
The Nato combat mission ends in December, though a small number of United States troops may stay in Afghanistan on training and counter-terrorism operations if a long-delayed security deal is signed with Washington.
Nearly 13 years after the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan remains in a parlous condition, despite billions of dollars of military and development aid pouring into the country.
Afghanistan's future financial prospects are a major cause of concern, with a US watchdog this year describing the country's economic indicators as "not promising".
"Afghanistan relies on international assistance to pay most of its civilian operating and development budgets as well as the bulk of its security costs," said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
Mr Qayum Karzai's withdrawal leaves 10 candidates in the race, including opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in the chaotic and fraud-riddled 2009 election, and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.