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Badakhshis Change Allegiances

President Karzai gets the vote in his predecessor’s stronghold.
By Danish Karokhel

The posters of Hamed Karzai fluttering in the shop windows of Badakhshan leave one in no doubt that residents of this northern province love the president of the transitional administration.


While the Afghan leader may feel under pressure in other parts of the country, people here believe he’s good news.


Which comes as something of a surprise, as the province has long been the stronghold of the Burhannudin Rabbani, Karzai’s predecessor and rival, who was born here and rose to become leader of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance.


But with his recent decision to taken more of a backseat in political life, locals have told IWPR that they were far from happy with his record in power and put their faith in the new leader.


People here are quick to point out that when the Karzai was attacked in Kandahar last month, it was a bodyguard from Jorm in the south of the Badakhshan who sacrificed his life saving the president.


“We love Hamed Karzai very much. Rabbani could not bring any changes in economical and social life of the people here. They even thought the drought was Rabbani’s fault,” said Mohammad Amir, who works for an international NGO in the provincial capital, Faizabad.


“A huge difference has come in the government now. During Rabbani’s time, highly educated people were not appointed. Illiterate commanders were in charge and weapons were everywhere.”


Ibrahim, a second-year medical student at Badakhshan University, agreed. “He did not choose the right people for his government. The public grew tired of him. And now they are supporting Karzai because he has brought peace and security to the country,” he said.


Dr Dawlat Jan, chief of a clinic in Darwazbala region of the province, said Rabanni was not qualified to run the country, “Rabbani couldn’t manage the affairs of one province – never mind a state.”


Karzai received one of his warmest welcomes anywhere when he flew into Faziabad’s tiny airport at the end of August for a two-day visit. “The hospitality which was given to Karzai had not been given to him in any other province of Afghanistan,” said Ismail, who turned up to greet the president. “If elections take place in Afghanistan, I will vote for Karzai instead of Rabbani.”


During his visit, Karzai pledged to rebuild roads, hospitals and the telecommunications and electricity network. “When Karzai came here, I told him that the people want help. If he serves them, they will be very appreciative,” said the governor of Badakhshan Sayed Mohammad Amin Tareq.


Rabbani, meanwhile, is in Kabul working with other members of predominantly Tajik Jamiat-e-Islami, the party he has led since 1971. Jamiat became one of the largest and best organised of the guerrilla groups during the Soviet war. By 1989, it had 20,000 followers, led by the legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud, murdered by al-Qaeda sympathisers last September.


In 1992, Rabani became president of the mujahedin regime. And when the Taleban captured Kabul four years later, he transferred his administration to Mazar-e-Sharif and then back home to Badakhshan.


After the collapse of the student militia, Rabbani returned to Kabul. He handed over the reins of power to Karzai following the landmark Bonn conference last December.


With elections in Afghanistan now just over a year away, some political observers feel Rabbani might make another bid for power, capitalising on the memory of the Massoud, but, it seems, he’s unlikely to get much backing from his old fiefdom.


Danish Kerokhel is an IWPR journalist


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