A long list of controversial candidates for Afghanistan's 2014 election raised concerns Monday of a repeat of the chaotic last presidential poll as the country seeks a stable end to the foreign military presence.
President Hamid Karzai, constitutionally barred from running for a third term, had called for just three or four candidates to avoid the chaos of 2009, when 40 names appeared on the ballot paper.
But long negotiations failed to winnow out the field and more than 25 ministers, provincial governors and former warlords — including one with previous links to Al Qaeda — piled into the election offices to register for the April 5 vote.
"In terms of security, it is very disappointing that months of intensive tea drinking among Kabul's most powerful men has failed to come up with any dominant tickets," Graeme Smith, analyst for the International Crisis Group, said.
"There isn't a clear choice being presented to Afghan voters."
Strict new nomination rules, including a deposit of about $20,000, were designed to prevent a mass scramble to get on the ballot paper.
But when nominations closed on Sunday after a hectic day of bureaucracy and speech-making, virtually every potential candidate had thrown their hat into the ring to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
"Don't be too hasty to assume that these are the names we will see in the election itself," said Smith, predicting the nominations were just the start of deal-making.
"We will see some shuffling in the frenetic months of politicking ahead."
Smith added that US-led international donors who have backed the country since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 had limited patience after 12 years of war.
"The international community's primary interest is in stability," he said. "It is overwhelming anxious to leave."
Among the runners to alarm diplomats in Kabul most is Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, named in the 9/11 commission report as the "mentor" of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Al-Qaeda attacks on the US in 2001.
Sayyaf, reported to be also the man who helped Osama bin Laden return to Afghanistan in 1996, later fought against the Taliban and emerged as an ally of Karzai.
For the election, Sayyaf signed up fellow warlord Ismail Khan, the strongman of Herat city, as his first vice-presidential candidate.
Such names on the ballot paper — as well as pugnacious former Kandahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai — underlined that the election would see the same leaders who tipped Afghanistan into civil war 20 years ago running for high office.
Several candidates arrived to register their papers in huge armored convoys in that increased fears that the election process could turn violent.
"The long motorcades of armored cars, bodyguards and entourages were in many ways reminiscent of the show of force associated with militia leaders," Martine van Bijlert, of the Afghan Analysts Network, said.
The 2009 election was mired by violence, massive fraud and delayed results until Karzai finally retained power in a process that shook international efforts to assist Afghanistan.