Central Asia

Afghanistan: A body blow to US
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - It is yet to be determined who is behind the assassination of Haji Abdul Qadir, the most powerful warlord of the eastern provinces, but the fact remains that his death is an irreparable blow to the United States' plans for Afghanistan.

Qadir, an ethnic Pashtun and a former anti-Soviet mujahideen leader in eastern Afghanistan, was the sole binding force of pro-US Pashtun warlords in Nangarhar province, where until recently he had been governor, and now intensified political instability is inevitable.

Qadir was shot dead on Saturday at lunch time as he drove away from his first day of office in the center of Kabul. He was one of five vice-presidents as well as holding the portfolio of public works minister.

The manner in which Qadir was gunned down in the heart of the capital has led many fingers to point towards the mostly non-Pashtun Northern Alliance. Qadir was known to be in conflict with the Minister of Defense, General Qasim Fahim, on many issues related to command of eastern Afghanistan. An ethnic Tajik, Fahim, took over as the military leader of the Northern Alliance after the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masoud last September.

In turn, the Northern Alliance immediately alleged that the Hezb-i-Islami, led by former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was behind the assassination. However, although the Hezb-i-Islami is rightly termed the only anti-US force in Afghanistan which has access in Kabul - and it has the men capable of carrying out bomb and rocket attacks in Kabul - killing such a high profile person as Qadir and escaping unscathed in broad daylight seems beyond their capabilities.

Sources say that many factors caused severe conflict between Qadir, one of the US's most trusted allies in the eastern provinces, and the leaders of the Northern Alliance. As the recently-installed public works minister, he was in a position to handle the vast sums of money due to flow into the country for rebuilding the shattered nation. It was no secret that Fahim wanted his own man in this lucrative position, but President Hamid Karzai and the US authorities favored Qadir, which upset the Northern Alliance leadership no end.

Even though he was one of the few Pashtuns in the non-Pashtun dominated Northern Alliance that swept the Taliban from power last year, backed by US air power, Qadir was often at odds with his colleagues. Indeed, he walked out of the very first day of the Bonn talks following the demise of the Taliban saying that what he was witnessing was a hegemony of non-Pashtuns at the conference.

Similarly, the appointment of Hazrat Ali as Corps Commander of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, when Qadir was still governor, irked him. Hazrat Ali belongs to the Jamiat-i-Islami, led by a former president, the Tajik Burhanuddin Rabbani. Qadir has his own constituencies and interests in the eastern provinces, and he took the imposition of Hazrat Ali as a direct threat to his ambitions there.

It is rightly said that Qadir wore many hats. He comes from a powerful feudal family, of which Nangarhar was the political fiefdom. Traditionally, his family had close ties with the royal family in Kabul. Qadir and his brother, the legendary commander Abdul Haq, retained this relationship and remained loyal to the exiled king Zahir Shah. Abdul Haq was executed by the Taliban shortly after the US launched its air strikes on Afghanistan, for trying to raise opposition against the Taliban.

However, among the jihadis, Qadir was never able to find a strong enough group to make Nangarhar its undisputed stronghold. Instead, two groups, the Jamiat-i-Islami and the Hezb-i-Islami emerged, and they were bitterly anti-monarchy. There was also Maulvi Yunus Khalis, the head of a Hezb-i-Islami faction, who although not in Zahir Shah's camp, was not reckoned as one of his foes.

Over the years, Qadir has occupied many villages around Jalalabad, where poppies are grown and harvested. These are then smuggled out of the country with the help of his friend Ayub Afridi (a notorious Pakistani drug baron who was recently released from a Karachi prison. (See related story)

Qadir made a fortune through this trade - he was one of the country's richest men - and was able to buy further influence among the jihadi groups, and he was rewarded with the governorship of Nangarhar when the communist regime was routed in the 1990s. And he welcomed Osama bin Laden to Jalalabad when he left Sudan, providing him residence and allowing him to use the cave complexes in Jalalabad.

When the Taliban retreated, they handed over Nangarhar to Maulvi Yunus Khalis, but the following day, on the arrival of Qadir, he quickly handed over his office Qadir, who then convened a meeting to announce a shura-i-sharqi (council of the Eastern provinces) and installed himself as its chief. At this time, Afridi was being sentenced to seven years prison in Karachi. But after a few days he was inexplicably set free and transported immediately to the Pakistani tribal belt.

Afridi is said to have been a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conduit during the US-sponsored jihad against the former USSR in the 1980s. Since the CIA had limited official resources to fund the Afghan war, Afridi was encouraged by the CIA to smuggle heroin to generate revenue to finance the war. Qadir and his brother Abdul Haq were the Afghan connection.

After the rout of the Taliban, the main question became how the majority Pashtuns could unite their tribes. They had been organized under the Taliban, but this of course was no longer an option. Many tribes were neutral or leaned towards the exiled monarch Zahir Shah, but they were mostly politically ineffective and inactive.

Thus Qadir was given the task to activate them. His links with Afridi in the poppy business were seen as a good way to do this, hence the latter's release. This nexus worked effectively, and Qadir emerged as a binding force, certainly as far as Nangarhar was concerned. Other eastern provinces, such as Khost, Paktia and Paktika, remain unstable by contrast.

In this situation, Qadir and the US were inevitable for each other. The Northern Alliance had never been particularly in favor of the US, but since the US was not able to incite an effective revolt against the Taliban in the Pashtun belt on its own, the Northern Alliance was perpetuated.

But none of the alliance's groups trust the US. Islamist elements such as the Jamiat-i-Islami lean towards Iran and Russia, the communist elements, like as Fahim and Abdurrashid Dostum (in Mazar-e-Sahrif) favor the Russian bloc. As far as the US were concerned, they could only trust "liberal" Pashtun commanders from the pro-Zahir Shah camp. And Haji Qadir was the most prominent of these.

After being elevated into the national government, Qadir had an important role to play in the eastern provinces through his poppy influence by bringing the commanders in Khost and Paktia, for example, to heel. Now, with his assassination, these plans are in tatters, and the United States has been deprived of an influential ally in stamping Washington's blueprint on the country.

(©2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

Jul 9, 2002

US turns to drug baron to rally support (Dec 4, '01)


Click here to be one)



No material from Asia Times Online may be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright Asia Times Online, 6306 The Center, Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong.