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Afghanistan: Qanooni Supporters Rally After Ouster; Karzai Promises Government Role

Scores of ethnic Tajik Afghan police blocked the roads leading to the Interior Ministry in Kabul today in a show of support for their leader, outgoing interim Interior Minister Mohammad Yunis Qanooni. The demonstration of power by the former Northern Alliance fighters from the Panjshir Valley follows Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai's announcement last night that Qanooni will be replaced at the ministry by the ethnic Pashtun governor of Paktia Province.

Kabul, 20 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Ethnic Tajik troops from the former Northern Alliance faction that controls Afghanistan's security and intelligence services registered opposition to the newly announced interior minister today by temporarily blocking roads in the capital and brandishing heavy weapons.

The troops from Afghanistan's northern Panjshir Valley -- mostly members of outgoing interim Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni's Jamiat-i-Islami faction -- cut off traffic around the Interior Ministry complex in the city center for several hours. They also drove vehicles around Kabul while openly displaying automatic rifles; antitank, rocket-propelled grenade launchers; and heavy-caliber, antiaircraft machine guns.

The show of force by the Panjshiri troops who form the rank and file of the Interior Ministry police followed an announcement last night by the newly appointed president of the Transitional Authority, Hamid Karzai, that Qanooni will not remain at the helm of the Interior Ministry. Instead, Karzai named the ethnic Pashtun governor of Paktia Province, Taj Mohammad Wardak, as the interior minister in his new 18-month transitional administration.

An aide to Karzai said today that Qanooni is not happy about the decision. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said Qanooni may be offered a more substantial government post in the future, possibly serving as one of Karzai's chief deputies.

Of the scores of Panjshiri troops who blocked access to the Interior Ministry today, none would comment on the reason for the demonstration or who had organized it. But an officer of the Afghan intelligence services told RFE/RL that the action was, indeed, a protest against the appointment of Wardak, and a signal that the new interior minister will face strong resistance if he tries to wrest control of the intelligence and security services away from Jamiat-i-Islami.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Kabul reported that the demonstration is also being seen by many Afghans as a way of pressuring Karzai into offering Qanooni a post as a deputy chief of the Transitional Authority.

Karzai named the individuals for 14 cabinet posts in a speech during last night's final session of the emergency Loya Jirga, a national assembly tasked by the Bonn accords with appointing a transitional government to administer the country for the next 18 months and to draft a new Afghan constitution.

Two other interim ministers from Jamiat-i-Islami, Defense Minister General Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, are to continue at their posts. Karzai also named Fahim as one of his three deputy chiefs.

Qanooni had been widely expected to be named as a deputy head of government. Although Qanooni was not named to that post last night, Karzai did leave open the possibility that Qanooni could become one of his deputies in the future. "There must be some deputy chiefs to help me in different fields of the government because it is very difficult for me to work alone. I have only decided regarding three deputies. It is possible that two more will be added later," Karzai said.

Karzai did offer Qanooni the post of education minister and indicated that Qanooni will not be left out of the new government. "We have a post for Qanooni, but we will tell you later. There is a post [for him], you can be certain of that. We have some posts which are really important posts and I want Qanooni to be the minister of education," Karzai said.

But there was initial confusion over whether Qanooni had accepted the offer when he stood up to speak from the floor of the assembly. From his position away from the microphones, Qanooni could be heard saying, "Thank you, Mr. Karzai." But Loya Jirga delegates close to Qanooni say he also rejected the offer in remarks that were not picked up by the microphones.

Those Loya Jirga delegates say Karzai was mistaken when he announced that Qanooni had accepted the Education Ministry post. "Brothers and sisters, I told you that I have a problem. And the problem is that Mr. Qanooni shouldn't refuse this post. In front of your eyes, [the Loya Jirga] has applauded and he has accepted. Yes, he has accepted. Very good. Very good. Now we no longer have a problem about appointing an education minister," Karzai said.

Karzai also told the Loya Jirga that the issue of a post for Qanooni highlights the issue of ethnic tensions between the ethnic Tajik Panjshiris from the north and ethnic Pashtuns from the south. "Two days ago, I was at a meeting of the [Loya Jirga] delegates of the greater region around [the southeastern] province of Paktia. Their proposal was that Mr. Qanooni should be appointed to a good post. I really appreciate their ideas and proposals which show the unity of the Afghan nation. Qanooni is from Panjshir and they were from Paktia Province, Logar Province, and some other places [in southeastern Afghanistan]. But their proposals did not have any effect, and we did what we wanted," Karzai said.

Karzai went on to ask Afghanistan's rival warlords, many of whom were delegates at the Loya Jirga, not to let any unfulfilled expectations lead to renewed fighting. "We tried to create a government that the people of Afghanistan will trust and which all the people of Afghanistan consider as their government and which is at the service of the people of Afghanistan. Of course, I must say that if we could not answer all the people's needs, then we should be forgiven," Karzai said.

The newly appointed Afghan leader also said he will quit his job as the transitional president if it becomes clear that he is unable to act on his promise of bringing peace and prosperity to Afghanistan. "We have promised to the people of Afghanistan through you [the Loya Jirga] and through your votes to bring security and peace and dignity to this country until our mothers and sisters are no longer afraid in their homes of the evil of the guns. And I swear that if I do not act on this promise, then I will present my resignation," Karzai said.

In the meantime, negotiations are continuing between the rival factions in Kabul over what role Qanooni might play in the Transitional Authority.