Efforts by Afghanistan's interim government to resolve a dispute between rival Pashtun factional leaders over the governorship of Paktia Province are close to an end.
Kabul, 8 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A decision on who will be the next governor of Afghanistan's southern Paktia Province appears to have been made by the interim government and will be announced by interim leader Hamid Karzai when he returns to Kabul from Pakistan. Karzai was scheduled to remain in Pakistan until tomorrow, but his aides say he could return as soon as this evening.
Sources close to talks in Kabul aimed at resolving a military standoff between two Pashtun factional leaders from Paktia told RFE/RL today that neither of the two rivals is expected to be named by Karzai. Instead, it is being suggested at the presidential palace in Kabul that a third man will be named -- an official who served as Paktia's governor in the past.
A two-day battle at the provincial capital of Gardez left 50 dead after a governor appointed in January by Karzai -- Padshah Khan Zadran -- attempted to enter the town with about 2,000 troops.
The fighting started when forces loyal to Gardez tribal council leader Haji Saifullah blocked Zadran's troops from entering the town. RFE/RL's correspondent at Gardez says forces from both sides remain in a tense standoff despite a declared cease-fire.
Karzai later said Zadran had erred by trying to move into Gardez with military troops: "We have that unfortunate thing in Gardez which was somehow expected. I knew all along that that was going to happen there, but still it is very sad. This is all the more reason for us to raise a national Afghan army as soon as possible and to stop support to local gun holders."
The fighting at Gardez illustrates the difficulties the interim administration faces as it tries to appoint provincial leaders and bring stability to areas outside of Kabul.
Zadran's brother, interim Frontier Minister Amanullah Zadran, warned today that if Karzai does not uphold January's appointment of Padshah Khan Zadran as the governor of Paktia, it will set a precedent that would encourage factions in other parts of the country to challenge government decrees and appointments.
"The Islamic faction Moulawi Khalis, [Itahad Islamic faction leader Abdul Rab Rasul] Sayaf and [Islami faction leader] Gulbuddin [Hekmatyar] do not accept Karzai's [appointment as interim leader.] Everyone should return to their provinces," Zadran said. "If there is reality, if there is an Islamic-based stipulation, then Padshah Khan [Zadran] has got the official letter from Karzai. Fighting will continue unless Padshah Khan's appointment is upheld."
But Saifullah told RFE/RL today that any governor other than Zadran would be acceptable to the people of the province. Speaking after talks with government delegates at the presidential palace today, Saifullah also hinted that he thinks Karzai will not uphold Zadran's appointment.
"The fighting is finished and I am satisfied that we will not fight. We have already created a Shura [a council] which works as a government. And the government does not attack anyone," Saifullah said. "If Padshah Khan [Zadran] creates some security problems, then we will respond in self-defense. But I am satisfied that we will not start any fighting."
In addition to Saifullah and his military commander Abdul Matin, today's talks also were attended by leaders of all seven main clans in Paktia province -- including a tribal leader from the Zadran clan who is supporting Saifullah in the conflict. Other supporters of Saifullah at today's talks were from his own Ahmadzai clan, as well as the Tutakhel, Mangal, Zurmaty, Gardizi, and Jaji tribes.
Padshah Khan Zadran and his delegates did not attend today's talks despite being expected to do so.
With Karzai in Pakistan, the senior government representative at today's meeting was Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai. He said a strong foundation for peace has been laid down in recent days.
"We've had excellent progress. All the prisoners have been released. There are no prisoners left on either side. Both parties have reached agreement on a total cease-fire in a commitment that no further violence will take place," Ahmedzai said. "The parties also agreed that all roadblocks will be removed and that anyone who stands in the way will be punished both by the people and by the government."
Ahmedzai said the interim administration has the ultimate authority regarding the two other two issues in the Gardez dispute -- including the critical issue of appointing the governor.
"One [issue] is the question of a governor. On that, there will be an announcement by the government very soon. And the other is the continuation of the fight against Al-Qaeda. And it has again been made very clear that this is the responsibility of the central government," Ahmedzai said. "No individual will be allowed to pursue this without permission and coordination with central authority."
Ahmedzai said Karzai's decision on the governorship of Paktia must be acceptable to both sides in the dispute. But he told RFE/RL that whatever decision is announced upon Karzai's return from Pakistan, he will be asserting his authority as the leader of Afghanistan' only legitimate central government.
Ahmedzai also rejected a call by Karim Khalili, the powerful ethnic Hazara leader who controls a large portion of central Afghanistan, for Karzai to allow tribal leaders across the country to choose their own provincial governors.
(RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.)