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Qadeer Murder Will Test Karzai

Haji Qadeer’s murder presents Karzai with arguably his toughest challenge
By Mirwais Masoud

The assassination of the Afghan vice-president Haji Qadeer is possibly the


biggest test head of state Hamid Karzai has faced since he came to the fore


as chairman of the interim administration seven months ago.


In the eyes of ordinary Afghans, who are exhausted after a generation of war,


and the international community, which supported first the interim


administration and now the transitional government, the challenge is two-fold.


First, if the Kabul authority is to show that it is more than a pretty


fiction dreamed up by foreigners, it must find and punish the killers. At


the same time, it must restore the delicate balance in the government


between the country’s two largest groups, the Tajiks and the Pashtuns, to


which Qadeer was pivotal.


“I am adamant that this can be a big obstacle towards the UN peace process,”


said Abdul Baqi Esari, a professor of social sciences and political analyst


at Kabul university. “If they fail, it will make the situation worse.”


The murder of Haji Qadeer was remarkably easy considering that he was a vice-


president and a powerful wartime commander in Afghanistan’s three


eastern provinces. He was gunned down by two men at lunchtime last Saturday outside the


public works ministry he had just been appointed to head. The assailants escaped in a white car.


Karzai and his cabinet moved swiftly. A ministerial commission to investigate the assassination was in action by Saturday afternoon, and Tayyeb Jawad, the head of Karzai’s office, said the murder showed the central government must move fast towards disarming the many factions which still rule large parts of Afghanistan.


The president said if the commission did not produce results within “a few days” he


would consider calling in foreign help to investigate, perhaps the Germans


or Americans. UN sources say military intelligence officers attached to ISAF


are already involved in the inquiry.


While these moves make it clear Karzai will not allow the Qadeer murder


to fade into the background, as happened with the assassination of the former aviation


minister Abdel Rahman in February, it also highlights his government’s rather tenuous hold on the


country it nominally rules.


Kabul police chief Mohammad Din Jurat said his forces had arrested two men


“similar to the suspects” and impounded their car. But if the authorities


have any clear leads on which organisations or factions might be behind the


killing, they are not letting on.


“If the government does not stop these incidents they will continue.


Actually, this is a test for the security capability of the transitional


government,” said Mohammad Anif, an army officer.


Qadeer was an almost unique force on the Afghan scene. A guerrilla commander


in the war against Soviet occupation in the Eighties, he became a national figure the following decade when he ruled the three eastern provinces of Nangahar, Laghman


and Kunar unopposed. He had strong international business links and at one


stage ran his own airline into the regional capital Jalalabad.


But it was as a negotiator and politician that he became crucial. Although a


leader in a strongly Pashtun area, he joined up with the Northern Alliance’s Tajik military chief Ahmed Shah Masoud to fight the Taleban.


His influence continued into the new era of Afghan politics begun with


December’s Bonn conference. At last month’s Loya Jirga, he was the only


political figure who commanded a block vote, controlling 148 delegates from


the eastern provinces. He put his support behind Karzai’s candidature for


the presidency, and in return was made a minister and vice-president.


His murder will have angered Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, who are already unhappy with Afghanistan’s new political landscape. The interim administration, which was


formed after the fall of the Taleban, was dominated by Tajiks from the


Northern Alliance, the only force to have resisted the student militia’s conquest of the


entire country.


Pashtuns had hoped ex-king Zahir Shah would take the presidency at the Loya


Jirga and were disappointed when he renounced any active role in politics,


apparently prompted by Karzai and American diplomats. Although Karzai is


himself ethnically a Pashtun, he does not have strong support amongst militants


in the community's heartlands - southern and eastern regions of the country.


Haji Qadeer was there to help fill that void. In the numbers game which is


an inevitable part of senior Afghan appointments, another Pashtun figure


will have to be taken into the government at the highest level. But it is


not immediately clear who this could be. Omar Samad, a spokesman at the


foreign ministry, said he did not expect any new appointment for a few days


at least.


Another effect the killing will have is to dissuade commanders who are


powerful locally from coming to Kabul, as the central government would like


them to do.


“Hamed Karzai tried as a first step of his government towards peace and


security to finish warlordism and give (the warlords) posts in the capital.


This incident will make the other warlords more unwilling to come to Kabul,”


said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author.


Karzai said during the Loya Jirga he was in negotiations with Ismail Khan,


the virtually autonomous governor of Herat in the west, to come and take a


post in Kabul, and also mentioned Uzbek general Abdel Rashid Dostum. Neither


is likely to hurry to Kabul now.


The president’s own credibility is also on the line because of the very public way


he told Qadeer to stay in Kabul to carry out his new duties. "Haji Qadeer,


where are you?" he joked in his final speech at the Loya Jirga. "You heard


you must stay in Kabul."


Mirwais Masoud is an IWPR journalist trainee


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