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Afghanistan: New Interim Administration Ministers Prepare To Take Office In Kabul

  • Charles Recknagel

Preparations are under way in Kabul for the transfer of power on 22 December, which will inaugurate Afghanistan's new interim administration. As part of the preparations, the new ministers-designate are holding rounds of private meetings regarding the details of their posts. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel recently caught up with two of the ministers-designate in Kabul long enough to learn a bit about their objectives for the next six months.

Kabul, 20 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- One of the hardest things about setting up a meeting with members of Afghanistan's soon-to-be-inaugurated interim administration is getting past their bodyguards.

Many of the ministers-designate are top leaders of one or another of Afghanistan's heavily armed factions. That makes their headquarters -- surrounded by fighters and camouflage -- more like impenetrable military camps than offices. Often, contacting these leaders means waiting until they return to their home bases in closely guarded caravans of four-wheel-drive vehicles, then trying to make an appointment before they rush off to another meeting with a valuable ally or dangerous rival.

Our correspondent recently interviewed two ministers-designate, who will head the ministries of trade and agriculture. RFE/RL was curious how these men view their upcoming roles as heads of large bureaucracies responsible for rebuilding Afghanistan from the ground up.

The minister-designate for trade and business, Sayed Mustafa Kazemi, is a top official of the Hezb-i-Wahdat Party, which is drawn from the minority ethnic Hazara community. That community, much of which lives in the central highlands of Afghanistan, played a major role in the military success of the Northern Alliance, which took Kabul when it was abandoned by the Taliban early in November.

Kazemi receives his visitors in the large, carpeted waiting room of his party headquarters. He is frank about the fact that he will assume his post at the Trade Ministry as a man of politics and not as a professional economist or administrator.

But he says he sees the primary goal of the six-month interim administration as building political stability in Afghanistan, which he says is the first step toward later reconstruction.

"The focus of the interim administration has to be on the short-term. The time frame is too short for the fundamental work [of reconstruction]," Kazemi says. "Instead, the administration will focus on creating peace and security in Afghanistan and building trust among Afghans and in the world community."

But Kazemi also says that, in his opinion, politicians belong in parliament and not at the head of state administrations. And he adds that after the interim administration, he hopes politicians will concentrate on forming democratic parties and put the government's top administrative positions in the hands of trained professionals.

The minister-designate for trade says he regards building political stability as the best way to lure back the people who will actually do the work of rebuilding the country's economy. Chief among them will be Afghan businessmen who fled the country's decades of war with their capital and now reside abroad.

He says political stability, too, is essential for attracting foreign investors who could help revive Afghanistan's agriculture and natural resource sectors, or help develop Afghanistan as a transit point for regional trade. Afghanistan could offer a pipeline route for exporting Central Asian oil and gas to world markets, given sufficient regional stability.

Kazemi and the other ministers-designate take their posts in the interim administration as the result of a 5 December accord reached in Bonn that divided the government's top positions among four Afghan factions. These factions are the Northern Alliance; the Rome group of ex-King Mohammad Zahir Shah; the Peshawar group of Afghan exiles in Pakistan, who also support the former monarch; and the Cyprus group of Afghan exiles in Iran.

The head of the interim administration will be ethnic Pashtun Hamid Karzai, whose closest ties have been to the Rome and Peshawar groups.

Across Kabul from Kazemi's headquarters is the heavily guarded compound of another minister-designate, Sayed Hossein Anwari. He is a leading member of the Islamic Harakat Party, which has large numbers of Hazara members but also draws from Afghanistan's minority Tajik and Uzbek communities and its majority Pashtun population. Anwari will be the minister for agriculture in the new interim administration.

Anwari, like Kazemi, is a political man and he, too, views the interim administration's priority as proving the country can have a stable government. He lists the administration's key tasks as building security, fighting organized gangs of drug smugglers, combating any remnant terrorist groups, and establishing good relations with foreign countries.

But even as the two ministers-designate agree on the priority of building political stability, they and the others soon to make up the interim administration will have to bridge many divides to do so.

One of those divides opened wide recently as Karzai -- who has no armed forces in Kabul -- welcomed a multinational security assistance force for Afghanistan. But several other key leaders have expressed strong reservations.

The UN Security Council is expected to vote on a plan for a security force in Afghanistan as early as today. The council's five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China -- agreed to a draft resolution yesterday. The plan would give a British-led multinational force of between 3,000 and 5,000 international troops a six-month mandate.

Defense Minister-designate General Mohammad Qaseem Fahim of the Northern Alliance said yesterday that foreign forces "won't be needed for security" and "that the major reason to have international peacekeepers in Afghanistan is to help in the reconstruction" of the country. He also said "there will be no more Northern Alliance when the [interim administration] begins, [but] it doesn't mean that we will take our forces out of Kabul."

He added: "We have several old and historic military bases inside Kabul, and we will take our forces to these."

Both the ministers-designate for trade and for agriculture acknowledge that the question of a multinational force has been much discussed in Kabul of late. But they have varying opinions about how the issue should be resolved.

Anwari says he believes the question of the final size and duration of the multinational force, as well as the issue of the demilitarization of Kabul, will be solved in negotiations with the United Nations: "There are different ideas regarding the size of the force. But I believe it will be solved through negotiations, and it will not be a reason for dispute between the members [of the Northern Alliance]."

But Kazemi says he strongly favors the deployment of a multinational force, which he considers crucial to guarantee stability: "We have to admit, with sorrow, that we face many problems and that we have many reasons to need to create a reasonable level of security in a short time, until the Afghan people can continue [that process] by themselves. So for these many reasons, the international force can play a fundamental role in helping guarantee security inside Afghanistan."

The challenge now for the leaders of the new interim administration will be whether they can peacefully and routinely overcome the future political differences that will divide them. And whether they can -- amid the political jockeying -- also find time to foster professional government administrations to carry out the work of rebuilding the country.

At the moment -- at least until the new leaders take office on 22 December -- the armed men they command still appear to outnumber the trained experts.

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