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Dispute Erupts Over Afghan Minister's Purported Resignation

An initial report suggesting that Afghan Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq had stepped down gave way on 9 March to Mohaqeq's accusation that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai improperly dismissed him after a rift over the levers of government in Kabul.

Mohaqeq resigned on 7 March and Karzai accepted the resignation, state-owned Afghanistan Television reported on 8 March. The report added that Karzai has appointed Ramazan Bashardost to succeed the outgoing minister.

While there was no immediate response from Mohaqeq to the news, initial reactions from some Afghan media suggested that the departure would allow Mohaqeq to focus on his bid for the Afghan presidency in elections widely expected to take place by September.

On 9 March, Mohaqeq told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he had left a cabinet session to protest the division of responsibilities within the government and that Karzai "decided on his own to sack" him. "I did not want to resign," Mohaqeq said, adding that he still considers himself the legally appointed planning minister and a member of the cabinet. He said that Karzai "does not have the authority" to dismiss him.

Mohaqeq also said he argued with Karzai over the responsibilities of his ministry and over the actions of Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who Mohaqeq said has been undermining the work of the Planning Ministry. "I considered it my right to argue over this," he told Radio Afghanistan on 9 March. "I left the cabinet in protest."

According to Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, Mohaqeq "expressed his desire to be out of the cabinet." Ludin added that Mohaqeq said he did not "see any place for himself in the cabinet," which the Transitional Administration " oral resignation and accepted it," Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 March. Ludin also said that Mohaqeq "raised inappropriate questions and addressed them" to Karzai, "The New York Times" reported on 10 March.

Mohaqeq told Radio Free Afghanistan on 9 March that while he considers himself a member of the cabinet, he will stay at home and will not create a problem from the situation. "There were a lot of other problems in the cabinet," Mohaqeq said, adding that he kept quiet in the "national interest," according to "The New York Times." Mohaqeq attributed the differences to some circles wishing to destroy the "jihadis" -- a reference to those who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979-89. "My dismissal is an illegal dismissal, and Mr. Karzai has done it by force," Mohaqeq concluded.

Mohaqeq entered the presidential contest as an independent despite the fact that he heads a faction of the Hizb-e Wahdat -- the main party representing the Afghan Shi'ite minority. He has been vocal about concerns of alleged irregularities related to the upcoming elections (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004).

Following his purported resignation, Mohaqeq said that a "psychological war" has been launched to pressure him as a presidential candidate. He said his former colleagues from the anti-Soviet military campaign have been removed from office as "punishment" for his "stance against the monopoly" of power, according to Radio Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's electoral field is growing at the party level. Afghan Ambassador to London Ahmad Wali Mas'ud is expected to announce the long-awaited launch of the Nahzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan (National Movement of Afghanistan) political party, which he vowed will include figures such as Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Education Minister Yunos Qanuni -- key members in the Shura-ye Nezar faction within the Northern Alliance -- and will put forward a "strong presidential candidate" for the elections, the Dubai-based daily "Gulf News" reported on 10 March.

Mas'ud, who is a younger brother of slain Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, unofficially founded his political party in May 2002, but has so far delayed its official launch (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 October 2004). "History in Afghanistan has shown that a central government, which is too strong, leads to a dictatorship, and dictatorships lead to chaos," Mas'ud told "Gulf News."

Karzai has been a vocal proponent of a strong central government and the new Afghan Constitution grants the president sweeping powers (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003).

With Mohaqeq assuming a confrontational posture and the potential candidacy of Mas'ud, Qanuni, or Abdullah -- all ethnic Tajiks -- Karzai might be prompted to concentrate efforts on gaining the support of ethnic Pashtuns in his own presidential bid, including those Taliban members who have not committed crimes (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). That could potentially split the election along ethnic lines and thus erode the legitimacy of the eventual winner in some segments of Afghan society.