Pashtun Warlord Boycotts Assembly

Controversial commander's actions are alienating Afghanistan's power brokers, including the ex-king he claims to support.

Pashtun Warlord Boycotts Assembly

Controversial commander's actions are alienating Afghanistan's power brokers, including the ex-king he claims to support.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

A local military chief has walked out of the Loya Jirga in protest at the election of Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's head of state, it has emerged.

A day before the Jirga began on June 10, Khost warlord Pacha Khan Zadran had told reporters that ex-king Zahir Shah was the only viable candidate for the presidency and warned of further violence were he not to be elected.

But the following day, Shah announced he would not seek any political post in Afghanistan's transitional government and the assembly elected Karzai soon after. Now delegates say Zadran has returned to Khost.

Zadran's walkout has alienated everyone including the president-elect and the ex-king the warlord claims to support so strongly.

This new development is the latest controversy involving the military chief, who was appointed governor of Paktia by Karzai in the first days of the interim administration.

A series of unpopular decisions and intense political rivalry in the province prompted the local council to replace him with another local strongman, Taj Mohammad Wardak. Zadran resisted, and dozens of people were killed in the ensuing violence.

During the fighting, Zadran fired rockets at the town of Gardez, reportedly killing 25 people. When Karzai warned that he would send defence ministry forces to the area if the violence did not stop, Zadran replied with an insult - threatening to personally "take off Karzai's long jacket".

Despite the local strife, Zadran still enjoys support in his province, with some delegates from the region claiming that they would also have boycotted the Jirga had they known he was leaving.

"If Pacha Khan had told us, many of the delegates would have gone with him. Now his future looks dark," said Gharanai Babrakzai Zadran, who represents Khost's Nadir Shah district.

American forces are still searching for Osama Bin Laden and the remnants of his al-Qaeda organisation in areas such as Khost. Zadran is one of many local commanders who have been equipped with new weapons in recent months to assist in that fight.

That assistance is set to continue, with US envoy Zalmai Khalilzad saying, "We use commanders to beat al-Qaeda and the Taleban, therefore we support them."

Zadran fought the Taleban in the eastern provinces as the student militia's regime collapsed under the weight of American bombing. His brother was a member of the ex-king's party that took part in December's Bonn negotiations, and later became the interim administration's minister for tribal areas.

But Zahir Shah is reported to be unhappy with Zadran's decision to abandon the grand assembly. His son-in-law Sardar Wali told IWPR that the former monarch's group does not have any political or private relations with the warlord.

Many of Afghanistan's most well known military leaders are attending the Loya Jirga as delegates, including Ismail Khan, General Abdul Rashid Dostum and other Northern Alliance leaders. Observers say Karzai may seek to give them senior posts as a first step to forming an effective united government.

The IWPR/Media Action International trainees are Mir Enyatullah Saada, Hafizullah Gardesh, Samander Khan, Daneesh Kerokhil and Abdel Wali.

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