Prague, 21 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 20 July removed the leaders of three of the country's most powerful independent militias from their posts as army commanders and gave them top-level civilian and police jobs.
Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said that "General Hazrat Ali, commander of Nengrahar Province Army Division, transferred to the post of police chief in that province, and General Khan Mohammed, commander of Kandahar Army Division, transferred to the post of police chief in that province. About General Ata, commander of the army division in Balkh Province, the decision is that he will be the governor of that province."
"The aim of the reshuffle is to strengthen the central government's control in the districts, which up to now have been operating largely as fiefdoms under the rule of regional factional commanders."
Ludin said the three commanders have agreed to the changes. He added: "God willing, there will be the necessary cooperation from all sides so that better elections can be held."
He said the aim of the reshuffle is to strengthen the central government's control in the districts, which up to now have been operating largely as fiefdoms under the rule of regional factional commanders.
Karzai's government has scheduled presidential elections for 9 October, and parliamentary elections for April 2005.
But widespread doubts remain that the shifts announced on 20 July will have any significant effect. Some analysts and journalists say the changes may be in formal titles only, without really reducing the influence the militia leaders wield in their districts.
In announcing the changes, Ludin was explicit in describing them as the result of careful negotiations. He also called them "a series of changes that will continue."
Reuters quotes one analyst as saying that the reshuffle is "circumspect." Vikram Parekh, of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, notes the three leaders have been relocated within their own provinces and will continue to command the loyalty of their troops.
Parekh says their power bases appear not to have been significantly reduced. The situation -- as he puts it -- "is much more complex than changing someone's title."
Karzai came to power after U.S.-led troops overthrew the former ruling Taliban. Under pressure from the United States, the UN and others, Karzai has struggled -- so far with little success -- to impose central authority on areas under militia-faction rule. He said recently that these factions pose more of a threat to stability than Taliban rebels.
For his part, General Ata, in an interview with RFE/RL, acknowledged Karzai's authority to remove him from a military assignment.
"Command of the 7th Army Division belongs to the Defense Ministry and the president. They can choose anyone they want for this post," Ata said.
But he also said he expects cooperation from the central government in return.
"The support of the people and the central government will be a source of strength for my [district] governance," Ata said. "If it happens that the state fails to cooperate in the reconstruction process, and does not cooperate in using domestic revenue under their supervision for reconstruction, and does not give us the mandate to use it, and people's problems remain unsolved, no doubt I will resign."
In addition to renegade militia leaders, remnants of the former Taliban also pose a threat to the stability of the elections. On 20 July, Afghan security forces captured the brother-in-law of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar. They said Mullah Amanullah was carrying money they believe he planned to distribute among Taliban fighters seeking to disrupt preparations for the poll.
So far, 16 candidates have declared their intentions to run for the presidency. Karzai is expected to announce his decision to run next week. He is widely regarded as the frontrunner.
(Sultan Sarwar of RFE/RL's Afghan Service assisted with this report.)