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Interview: Influential Afghan Party Rift Opens On Eve Of Election

One day before Afghanistan's first-ever national presidential election on 9 October, a rift appears to have opened within the influential Afghanistan National Movement (Nahzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan) over its possible endorsement of a candidate. Tanya Goudsouzian and RFE/RL analyst Amin Tarzi report.

National Movement Chairman Ahmad Wali Mas'ud indicated on 6 October that his party was backing the candidacy of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. A day later, fellow party member and Afghan Minister of Returnees Affairs Enayatullah Nazari read a statement refuting Wali Mas'ud's claim. Nazari called Wali Mas'ud's support for Karzai a personal choice but argued that "there is no change in the National Movement's stance," which is to "resolutely support" the candidacy of Karzai's chief rival and National Movement member Mohammad Yunos Qanuni.

Wali Mas'ud, the current Afghan ambassador to the United Kingdom, is a younger brother of the celebrated former military commander of United Front (aka Northern Alliance), Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. Another brother, Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, happens to be Karzai's first vice-presidential running mate.
"On one side we have Ahmad Zia, who is a prominent member of Nahzat [the National Movement]; and on the other side we have Qanuni, who is also a key member of Nahzat. My position -- and the position of the party -- is critical" -- Ahmad Wali Mas'ud

The two Mas'ud brothers, along with Qanuni, Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, formed a powerful front in post-Taliban Afghanistan and were regarded as a major force that could mount a serious challenge in pursuit of Afghanistan's top political post.

But Karzai surprised many Afghan observers in July when he dropped plans to include Defense Minister Fahim as his chief running mate on the presidential ballot, instead choosing Zia Mas'ud (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). The move created divisions within the Mas'ud-Qanuni-Fahim-Abdullah group.

In an interview with RFE/RL in August, Wali Mas'ud hinted at the dilemma his party faced in backing a candidate, saying, "On one side we have Ahmad Zia, who is a prominent member of Nahzat [the National Movement]; and on the other side we have Qanuni, who is also a key member of Nahzat. My position -- and the position of the party -- is critical" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). In August, Wali Mas'ud had said that his immediate job was "to bridge the gap" between Karzai and Qanuni. "I am responsible for the National Movement," he continued. "I am not acting alone. I must act through the collective decision-making process of the National Movement." Wali Mas'ud added in August that "in making the decision, we must be very careful to stick to the principles and charter of the National Movement."

Wali Mas'ud's hopes of bridging the gap between Karzai and Qanuni seem to have failed, since speculation of a looming alliance between the two candidates never materialized (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 October 2004). Mas'ud has thus decided to back the ticket that includes his brother, while his party appears to have opted for Qanuni.

Wali Mas'ud said the following in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL from Kabul on 8 October:

RFE/RL: The Afghan Returnees Affairs Minister Enayatullah Nazari has declared that the National Movement backs the candidacy of Yunos Qanuni and that your decision to support Chairman Karzai -- and your brother Ahmed Zia Mas'ud -- is a personal one that does not reflect the position of the party. Is this true?

Wali Mas'ud: The National Movement is an officially registered party, and it has 16 founding members. [For a list of Afghan political parties, see RFE/RL's dedicated website at] Neither the returnees minister [Nazari] nor Yunos Qanuni are founding members; they are not registered with the [Justice] ministry as such.... My name has been registered as the head of the party. Whoever claims they support a candidate other than the official position of the party, that is their own view and their own personal claims. It has nothing to do with the official position of the National Movement.

RFE/RL: Which candidate does the National Movement support?

Wali Mas'ud: We support a national agenda, and we support the candidates who support that national agenda. In this case, it is President Hamid Karzai, Ahmad Zia [Mas'ud], and [Karzai's second vice-presidential running mate Mohammad Karim] Khalili, as well as other leaders. Among them, there are some mujahedin and some political leaders.... So yes, the National Movement supports the campaign of President Karzai, which, I repeat, is based on the national agenda.

RFE/RL: What exactly does this national agenda consist of?

Wali Mas'ud: This is the position of the National Movement, and it is the result of numerous discussions during which we have come to agree on certain principles with Mr. Karzai. We are not simply backing them for the sake of backing anyone. Our decision was based on certain principles.

RFE/RL: What are those principles?

Wali Mas'ud: These principles involve 12 items. Among them [are]: having a united political vision for the future of Afghanistan; agreeing on the day of the parliamentary elections and a viable mechanism for those elections; not allowing any controversial personalities -- we all know who they are -- from the past cabinet into the new cabinet; not allowing anything unconstitutional -- in other words, no appointments should be made that go against the constitution; and we have also agreed that the fight against narcotics and terror should be the responsibility of all.

RFE/RL: Is it true that these principles also include a number of key cabinet posts for members of your party?

Wali Mas'ud: At the moment, every candidate is preparing his own cabinet. There are talks that will take place from now onward, because they must prepare this. No one knows for sure who will win. But it is the responsibility of each team to prepare their cabinet. We have not talked about these things.... But as soon as the elections are over, talks will start.

RFE/RL: There are rumors that the elections will be fraudulent.

Wali Mas'ud: Well, let's see what happens. The elections are tomorrow.... If it hasn't happened, we can't judge.

RFE/RL: Who do you think was responsible for the assassination attempt on your brother in Badakhshan Province on 6 October? [Note: A roadside blast killed one person and injured two others as Ahmad Zia Mas'ud's motorcade passed. While neo-Taliban elements claimed responsibility for the attack, Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali blamed the country's drug cartel.]

Wali Mas'ud: No details have come out yet. One thing I can say is that whoever is responsible does not want a national unity government to take form. Anyhow, this is not something that one can find out right away. It needs a lot of investigations and the government and the right agencies will do so after the elections.

Whoever was responsible is against peace and unity in Afghanistan. Don't forget that my brother Ahmed Zia's coming out as a candidate for the government is a very important step towards establishing unity in the country and stopping the polarization of the country along ethnic lines. Had Mr. Karzai gone alone, and Ahmed Zia [gone] on the other side, the elections would have polarized the Afghan people along ethnic lines. That is why the enemies of unity acted in this manner and tried to kill my brother.

[For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage.]