From education and the economy to foreign troops and the Taliban, the challenges in Afghanistan come into focus as the race begins to succeed President Hamid Karzai.

He has been in power since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 but Afghanistan’s president is preparing to step aside.
Nominations have closed for candidates who wish to succeed him in elections next year. They range from seasoned politicians to tribal leaders and a former warlord linked to the 9/11 attacks.

We should be talking to the Taliban - what do they think about these candidates ... There can be no progress unless the security arrangements that deal with the Taliban sort out what the Americans are doing as far as their bilateral agreement and what Pakistan intelligence is doing.  These issues are the key issues but everyone is skirting them.

Paul Moorcraft, the director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis

A final list of candidates will be announced next month, campaigning will begin in February, with elections scheduled for April.

The stakes are high - with billions of dollars in aid resting on the outcome. The election would mark the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.

The winner will face the challenge of maintaining security after foreign troops leave, while attempting to broker a peace deal with the Taliban.

Domestically, challenges range from the economy to education.

When Karzai took office in 2001, he said: "The assessment for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the help required for it has been going on for a very long, long time we basically need indeed billions of dollars to overcome the difficulties in all spheres of economic activity and the infrastructure, the revival of certain industries and the revival of agriculture, schools and hospitals. There is really no area in which Afghanistan will not require assistance."

Karzai himself is barred from running for a third term in office under the terms of Afghanistan's constitution - but there is no shortage of potential successors.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah was a runner-up in the 2009 presidential elections. He served as foreign minister under Karzai from 2001 to 2005.

Qayum Karzai is the current president's elder brother. Educated in the US, he ran the family's chain of Afghan restaurants in America. He has served in parliament, but resigned after criticism that he was often absent.

Ashraf Ghani is a former World Bank executive, who served as finance minister from 2002 until 2004. In 2010, Foreign Policy magazine placed him in its annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.

Zalmai Rassoul, the current Afghan foreign minister, is one of President Karzai's closest allies. A doctor by profession, he was Karzai's national security adviser between 2003 and 2010.

And Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf is a religious scholar and former warlord. He is an MP and confidant of Karzai - named in the 9/11 commission as the mentor of the mastermind behind the 2001 attacks in New York.

So, what are the challenges facing Afghanistan in 2014? Will Karzai really step down? And who will be the country's next leader?

Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, discusses with guests: Haseeb Humayoon, a founding partner and director of QARA Consulting, an Afghan-owned public relations and political risk consultancy; Paul Moorcraft, the director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis; and Habiburrahman Rahmani, an Islamic scholar and a Rule of law consultant at the Public Private Partnership for Judicial Reform.

"These elections, the process that's underway marks in many ways a new phase in the transformation of this country - now that is not optimism that is fact. What I am trying to suggest here is not that everything is perfect or rosy but what is crucial to understand here is that there is a process underway, there is a constitution, it's major test, the election is coming up ..." 

Haseeb Humayoon, the director of QARA Consulting

Source: Al Jazeera