Karzai gets warm welcome from Herat warlord

Posted in Broader Middle East | 11-May-04 | Source: dawn.com (Pakistan)

HERAT, May 10: Afghan President Hamid Karzai was given a warm welcome by warlord Ismail Khan when he arrived here on a daylong visit to western Herat province on Monday, his first since violent clashes in March left his minister dead.

Thousands of people lined both sides of the road from the airport to cheer Karzai. Karzai, accompanied by several ministers, drove to the governor's house from the airport under tight security manned by US troops and Afghan militiamen.

Several US-led jets circled low as Karzai addressed the people at the main Herat mosque, witnesses said. The president, who was on his second visit to Herat since the ouster of Taliban, vowed his government would disarm private militias.

His administration has been working to establish its authority across the country through a campaign aimed at neutralizing the influence of warlords, and the government plans to disarm some 40,000 militiamen by the end of June before presidential elections scheduled for September.

Ismail Khan, a powerful ex-anti Soviet fighter who is also governor of Herat province, has his own private militia force. The central government has had problems with Ismail Khan over disarmament and customs revenue, but Karzai described Khan as his government's envoy to the province.

"The governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, is the representative of central government in Herat and all his works are under the supervision of the central government," the president said at a press briefing.

Ismail Khan's son, Mirwais Sadiq, was aviation minister when he was killed in Herat during factional fighting in March, which soured relations between Ismail Khan and the central government.

"We are here to offer our condolences to the family of our cabinet friend Mirwais Sadiq," President Karzai said. The Afghan government has launched a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) campaign that aims to disarm militiamen who fight each other and threaten security.

"The DDR process ... will include all Afghans. Those mujahideen who get disarmed will be provided jobs," Karzai said. During his daylong stay, Karzai inaugurated a project for supply of power from Turkmenistan to Herat, opened an education centre in the city and also laid the foundation stone of a school in a village in north of here.

Swiss tourists: Two men found stabbed and stoned to death in Kabul over the weekend appear to have been Swiss tourists, a diplomat said on Monday. "One of them is the holder of a Swiss passport. We've got the picture of the second individual who has registered in the Swiss embassy in Islamabad," Swiss diplomat Rueeri Hader said.

Authorities were "80 percent certain" the man without a passport was also Swiss, he said. The bodies of the two were discovered in a walled garden in the Afghan capital on Sunday morning. One had been killed with a knife and the other had been beaten to death with bricks.

The pair had been travelling around the region since late last year and arrived in Afghanistan on April 29, Mr Hader said. "All indications show they were mostly tourists."

Afghan police were investigating their deaths. "We do not know who killed them," interior ministry official Lutfullah Mashal said. "Investigations are going on both at the site where they were killed, and through a postmortem on the bodies to find out who they were, why they were in Afghanistan and how, why and by whom they were killed."

The victims were dressed in traditional Afghan robes, hats and sandals. The pair had entered from Pakistan via the Torkham border crossing, near Peshawar. They had Iranian and Indian visas in their passports, a Western diplomat said.

There has been a spate of killings, kidnappings and ambushes targeting foreign troops and aid workers mainly in Taliban strongholds, but this is the first attack on tourists in the Afghan capital. -AFP