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Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah displays his ink-stained finger before voting at a high school in central Kabul on Saturday, April 5, 2014. Abdullah survived a deadly suicide bombing outside a campaign rally in Kabul on Friday, June 6, 2014.

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah displays his ink-stained finger before voting at a high school in central Kabul on Saturday, April 5, 2014. Abdullah survived a deadly suicide bombing outside a campaign rally in Kabul on Friday, June 6, 2014. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL — Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah survived a deadly suicide bombing outside a campaign rally in Kabul Friday, escaping a nightmare scenario that if successful would have thrown the election process into chaos and further delayed a final decision to keep an international force in the country after the end of this year.

A suicide car bomber and an attacker with a suicide vest detonated their explosives near a convoy carrying both Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul — a former presidential candidate who trailed in the first round of voting but threw his support to Abdullah for the runoff — as they were leaving the event just after noon, campaign and security officials said.

Six people were killed and more than 20 wounded, including several bodyguards and civilians, Afghan Ministry of Interior spokesman Najib Danish said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, though the Taliban have vowed to disrupt the second round election. A Taliban spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Western officials have privately expressed deep concern about a presidential candidate being assassinated ahead of the June 14th runoff between Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. By Afghan law, the entire election process would start over, potentially delaying a transfer of power by months.

That could endanger a security agreement that would pave the way for a small contingent of foreign troops to stay in the country past the end of the year, when all foreign combat troops will have withdrawn.

“This has been the nightmare scenario all along, that an attack would kill a candidate and the clock would be set back to zero in the political transition at a really difficult time,” said Graeme Smith, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement via Twitter condemning the attack: “The Afghan people deserve democracy, not violence.”

This election would mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history. Karzai, the only president the country has had since the U.S. ousted the ruling Taliban in 2001, is barred by Afghanistan’s constitution from running for re-election.

Many Western nations as well as aid groups are closely monitoring the election, which is taking place as foreign combat troops wind down their nearly 13-year mission in the country. A follow-on military training and counter-terrorism mission is contingent on Kabul signing the bilateral security agreement with the U.S.

President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, but both presidential candidates have said they will, if elected.

The Afghan government depends nearly entirely on foreign assistance for funding, and what happens with this transition of power could go a long way in determining how much continued assistance the country gets, Smith said.

“There are a lot of NGOs and other development actors who are waiting to see what will happen in this transition before they sign off on any new projects, (and) that’s important for a country as aid-dependent as Afghanistan is for their economy,” he said.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

druzin.heath@stripes.com Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes


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