Karzai Shows He'll Cast Lot With a Corps of Warlords

Posted in Broader Middle East | 08-Jun-04 | Author: Carlotta Gall| Source: The New York Times

Security and voter education, often in the form of publicity posters like these in Kabul, are twin concerns ahead of elections in September.

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 6 - President Hamid Karzai has accepted the support of powerful mujahedeen leaders for the presidential elections scheduled for September, indicating he will continue an alliance with them in a future government. His move has dismayed many Afghans who were hoping that the nation's first democratic elections would herald an end to the power of the warlords, who have dominated politics for the past decade.

Mr. Karzai is far and away the leading candidate to win a five-year term as president, with Afghanistan's first pre-election opinion survey putting his approval rating at 85 percent. The leaders of the powerful Northern Alliance faction have already said they will not field a candidate and will support Mr Karzai, who is scheduled to meet with American soldiers at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Tuesday to personally thank them for their help in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai met last Thursday with the former president and leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami party, Burhanuddin Rabbani; the leader of the Ittehad-e-Islami, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf; and with some of the most powerful mujahedeen commanders, including Gov. Ismail Khan of Herat Province. All pledged support for him. The education minister, Yunus Qanooni, also publicly expressed his support this week. The defense minister, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, and four other important Pashtun mujahedeen party leaders have done the same, presidential aides said.

Mr. Karzai insisted Thursday that he had not made a deal with the faction leaders and was opposed to a coalition government. Yet it is clear that Mr. Karzai, rather than testing his popularity by standing alone, has opted to join forces with the mujahedeen, men who fought the jihad, or holy war, against the Soviet occupation in the 1980's and who have been his traditional allies over the years.

"The president welcomed the offer of support of the two parties," the presidential chief of staff, Umar Daudzai, said in an interview this week. "These are the two distinguished leaders of jihad whom we always respect, and the president of course was also a leader of jihad, and therefore there is no reason that the president would not accept their offer."

Impartial observers say there is more involved than camaraderie among fellow former jihadis. "He knows it is the most important thing to make a bargain with the jihadis," said one Western diplomat. "He came to power with them, and he is not going to change the political dynamic," he said.

Other officials explained it is not Mr. Karzai's style to go it alone, and his strategy has always been a "big tent policy," to co-opt the warlords rather than confront them.

But his joining forces with the jihadi leaders, many of whom still retain armed militias and pay only lip service to the central government, has dismayed some.

"The deal that has taken place is against the national benefit and the will and desires of the people of Afghanistan," said another presidential candidate, a doctor from Kabul, Massouda Jalal.

She accused Mr. Karzai of agreeing to give half the cabinet posts to Mr. Sayyaf and Mr. Rabbani in return for their support in the elections. Mr. Karzai was concerned that he could not win the election without their support, she said.

A coalition with the mujahedeen would prolong the many problems facing the government, she said. "With this coalition, the reconstruction of Afghanistan will not take place, collection of weapons will not take place, we will keep on having instability and anarchy, the unfairness of the current situation will not improve, and the free will of the people will not be implemented," she said.

Underscoring the precariousness of the security situation, United States military officials said one American soldier was killed and two were wounded Monday when an explosive device detonated under their Humvee near the town of Deh Rawood in Uruzgan Province in the south. The attack was the latest in a stretch of violence that has intensified during the last few weeks.

Technocrats in the government, who have battled with the mujahedeen leaders to push through reforms, particularly in the areas of disarmament and reform of the police, military and intelligence service, expressed their concern that without a genuine popular mandate, the future president would not be able to achieve much change.

"The next government must have legitimacy to carry out a difficult series of reforms," said Ashraf Ghani, the finance minister. "It is the people of Afghanistan who are the only judges of legitimacy. We must ensure that the people exercise that right."

The jihadi leaders said they had decided to endorse Mr Karzai's candidacy in the interests of stability and national unity.

"Afghanistan is at a very sensitive, historic moment,'' Mr. Rabbani said. "We need security and trust in each other and national unity. If we do not think of these things, reconstruction will not go forward, and this attention of the international community is our only opportunity."