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Afghanistan: Qanuni's Security Post Solidifies Tajik Power Base In Government

In his first days as president of Afghanistan's Transitional Authority, Hamid Karzai has been appointing individuals to most of the cabinet posts that were not named during last week's Loya Jirga sessions. Negotiations during the weekend appear, at least in the short term, to have defused a crisis about control of the Interior Ministry that briefly threatened the government. RFE/RL reports from Kabul that in the final analysis, the ethnic Tajik Panjshiris who dominated the power ministries of Karzai's previous interim administration have gained even more clout within the new Transitional Authority.

Kabul, 24 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Members of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, have been complaining for months about the disproportionate amount of power wielded by ethnic Tajiks from the Panjshir Valley in the country's six-month interim administration.

Western officials, seeking to calm those complaints, have consistently pointed to this month's emergency Loya Jirga as a mechanism that would address the issue of ethnic imbalances within the transitional government.

But in the final analysis, the ethnic Tajik Panjshiris have gained even more power in the new Transitional Authority than they had previously.

The consolidation and expansion of power by Shurai-i-Nezar, the military wing of the ethnic Tajik Jamiat-i-Islami party, became apparent on the weekend, when Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai offered outgoing interim Interior Minister and Jamiat-i-Islami head Yunus Qanuni a post as his personal adviser on internal security.

Karzai had already offered key posts to two other members of Shurai-i-Nezar, interim Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Both were asked to stay on as the head of those ministries within the new 18-month Transitional Authority.

Fahim was also named as the first deputy chief of the Transitional Authority, a position that essentially makes him second in command to Karzai while leaving Fahim in full control of the Panjshiri armed forces that moved into Kabul against the wishes of the international community after the collapse of the Taliban.

Karzai's choice for interior minister, the 80-year-old Afghan-born U.S. citizen, Taj Mohammad Wardak, was made in an attempt to bring a Pashtun voice into the ministry that is responsible for both security and intelligence operations. But the appointment of Wardak angered the outgoing interior minister, Qanuni.

Senior aides in the Afghan administration say Qanuni felt Karzai had demoted him by initially offering him only the post of education minister. The morning after of Karzai's initial announcement on 19 June, the rank-and-file Panjshiri troops who dominate the Interior Ministry temporarily blocked off the roads around the Interior Ministry complex in Kabul and brandished weapons to demonstrate that their loyalties remain with Qanuni.

Early Friday morning, small-arms fire and several explosions were heard near the Interior Ministry compound. The tension near the ministry was such that U.S. and British observation helicopters were quickly deployed from Bagram airbase to monitor the area. No serious injuries were reported.

A second blockade and protest by Interior Ministry troops was also planned for Saturday, the day that Wardak formally replaced Qanuni at the ministry. One Interior Ministry officer told RFE/RL his commanders had ordered the demonstrations shortly after Karzai announced that Wardak would become the new interior minister.

But the second protest was canceled and further violence around the ministry dissipated after Karzai defused the crisis, at least for the short term, by offering Qanuni the opportunity to serve as his internal-security adviser. According to Qanuni, who accepted both the security and education posts today, the newly created position as Karzai's security adviser will essentially promote him as Wardak's direct supervisor. "The relation of the [internal-security adviser's] post to the Interior Ministry and the intelligence services is that they must contact the head of the Transitional Authority through the security adviser. The internal-security adviser will have control and supremacy over other Afghan security organizations," Qanuni said.

Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL that the demonstrations and weekend negotiations over control of the Interior Ministry reflect the conundrum Karzai has faced while trying to balance conflicting demands from rival ethnic and political groups. "What we see now does seem to indicate what President [Karzai] had said [at the time of the Loya Jirga], that it was a very difficult task to put together this cabinet attempting to represent all the different forces in the country," Almeida said.

Despite the fact that the militant Panjshiri faction essentially has expanded its control over the key Afghan power ministries, Almeida said Karzai's appointments to other ministries have improved the overall ethnic balance of the new government. "[The fact that the cabinet] remains with just about the same number of members as it had before probably reflects that very difficult task, that very difficult balancing act. The ethnic balance seems to be a bit better than it was before. There are even some minorities represented," Almeida said.

But many delegates at last week's Loya Jirga are now complaining that the new cabinet includes too many regional warlords or the allies of warlords who command their own private armies.

The European Union's special representative in Afghanistan, Klaus-Peter Klaiber, has rejected those criticisms. Klaiber said he thinks it was necessary for Karzai to bring the regional warlords into the new government. "President Karzai, from the beginning of his [interim] administration, has taken the decision that he wanted to integrate or include the regional leaders into governmental policy here in Kabul. I think this is a good approach and as we know, his new cabinet comprises some regional leaders as well, which is a good thing. I can only hope that it will work. That is the big question and the big challenge for the new administration," Klaiber said.

Klaiber went on to explain that the reaction of the regional warlords to the new cabinet, and particularly, their cooperation with the authorities in the central government, is what ultimately will determine whether the situation in Afghanistan will improve further or deteriorate into more factional fighting. "As long as [Karzai's] government is not able to collect customs and duties from all over the country, as long as he has no armed forces of his own and functioning police forces under his control who can guarantee security all over the country and also at the frontiers, there is always the risk that the regional leaders will try to solve the problems themselves. And this, of course, does not contribute to the unity of the country," Klaiber said.

Qanuni was sworn in Monday afternoon after finally accepting the dual post as education minister and internal-security adviser. He waffled on Karzai's dual offer for several days, saying he was consulting with various factions in order to make a well-informed decision. "I am discussing this proposal with the people of Afghanistan, with different ethnic groups and with intellectuals of Afghanistan. I am hopeful that by [Monday] I will be able to declare my final decision concerning either my participation in the Transitional Authority or my rejection of the offer to participate," Qanuni said.

Political analysts in Kabul say the delay by Qanuni on announcing whether he will accept Karzai's offer of a dual post appears aimed at defusing future criticism over the way he was offered the post of internal-security adviser.

By suggesting that he sought a democratic mandate from ethnic leaders before agreeing to join the Transitional Authority, Qanuni is providing himself with a response to political rivals who may allege in the future that he became the internal-security adviser only because of last week's show of force by the rank-and-file Panjshiris in the Interior Ministry. That would prove to be politically unpopular, as many Afghans say that they are tired of living under the rule of the gun.

Anssi Kullberg, a political analyst from the Finnish embassy in Islamabad, told RFE/RL that Qanuni gained moral legitimacy in the eyes of many Afghans when he voluntarily resigned as interim interior minister at the beginning of the Loya Jirga meetings earlier this month.

That move was seen by many Afghans as an attempt by Qanuni to put the importance of national unity ahead of his own personal ambitions. But Kullberg said Qanuni will lose that moral high ground in Afghan politics if, 18 months from now, he is seen as a man who forcefully pressured his way into a senior position in the Transitional Authority.

With the Bonn accords calling for democratic elections in Afghanistan within two years, such a view of Qanuni could upset his chances of being elected as the next leader of Afghanistan.

In the meantime, the strong position that the Panjshiri faction of the former Northern Alliance now controls in the Transitional Authority has left unresolved the simmering animosity felt by many Pashtuns over the fact that an ethnic minority group has more power in the government than their own ethnic representatives. This imbalance is further highlighted by the disappointment Pashtuns feel after the Loya Jirga failed to give a government role to the former Afghan king, Zahir Shah.