Qadeer Murder Will Test Karzai

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

Qadeer Murder Will Test Karzai

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

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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