Afghanistan's election commission on Wednesday announced the final list of candidates for next year's presidential poll, which will be the country's first-ever democratic power transfer.
The bulk of NATO's 75,000 remaining troops are due to pull out by the end of 2014 and a credible presidential election -- rather than a repeat of the fraud-plagued vote of 2009 -- is seen as crucial to stability.
Current President Hamid Karzai, appointed following the US-led invasion of 2001, must step down after serving two terms.
"Eleven candidates have made it to the final list for presidential election," Abdul Rahman Hotak, deputy head of the Independent Election Commission, told a news conference.
More than 2,700 candidates, including 308 women, have made it to the final list for provincial council elections, he said.
"We have done all our vetting honestly, and without accepting any pressure on us. We have done it independently," he said.
Hotak said the main problems with the disqualified candidates were the voter cards of supporters which the candidates needed to provide to the commission.
Under electoral law, presidential hopefuls must be aged at least 40, have a clean criminal record, not be a citizen of another country, provide 100,000 voter cards to prove they have a network of supporters, and lodge a deposit of one million Afghanis ($18,000).
Election authorities last month cut down the initial list of 26 candidates for the April 5 presidential vote to 10, but the Afghan election watchdog on Tuesday reinstated one name.
Karzai had called for just two or three candidates to avoid the confusion of 2009 when 40 names appeared on the ballot paper.
The reinstated candidate is Daud Sultanzoi, a former MP who has cancelled his dual citizenship so he can stand.
Among the leading presidential candidates are former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who ran against Karzai in 2009, the president's low-profile elder brother Qayum Karzai and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, a former Islamist warlord who had close ties to Al-Qaeda, is also on the list, along with Karzai loyalist Zalmai Rassoul, who recently resigned as foreign minister to run.
Also standing is former Kandahar warlord Gul Agha Sherzai, nicknamed the "bulldozer".
Some unexpected pairings have also emerged, for example involving Ghani. The internationally-renowned academic chose Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum as his first running mate.
Overshadowing the announcement of the final election list is Thursday's "loya jirga" or grand assembly of tribal elders, which will decide whether to support a crucial security pact with the United States.
If the agreement is passed, up to 16,000 US troops will stay in Afghanistan to help fight Al-Qaeda remnants and train the national army.
There are fears that if a deal is not reached -- and the legal status of US forces has been a major sticking point -- all American troops will pull out and local forces will struggle to contain the Taliban.
In this so-called "zero option" scenario, whoever emerges victorious after April 5 will face a much tougher task in maintaining Afghanistan's fragile stability.