- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2002

From combined dispatches
KABUL, Afghanistan Gunmen assassinated Afghan Vice President Abdul Qadir in broad daylight in the capital Kabul yesterday, in a fresh blow to efforts by President Hamid Karzai to steer his volatile country toward peaceful elections.
Mr. Karzai began an investigation into the assassination of Mr. Qadir, as preparations got under way today for the slain leader's funeral.
Kabul Police Chief Basir Salangi said two gunmen fired 36 rounds at the car outside Mr. Qadir's office compound in the center of Kabul, riddling the vehicle with holes.
The gunmen, wearing white skull caps, then jumped into a white car and escaped, said another police official, Abdul Raouf Dad.
Mr. Qadir was a veteran warlord who was an ethnic Pashtun like Mr. Karzai and a key player in a nation riven by regional rivalries.
Mr. Karzai summoned his Cabinet to an emergency session, and police set up roadblocks throughout the city. Uniformed troops armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers took up positions in front of government ministries.
A government statement issued after the meeting blamed the assassination on "terrorists."
Mr. Karzai appointed a commission headed by Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak and another vice president, Karim Khalili, to investigate the assassination.
"It is too early to say who was behind the assassination," Mr. Karzai's spokesman, Sayed Fazl Akbar, told Reuters news agency. "Karzai is deeply affected by his death. He is sad as an Afghan. He is upset because he lost a prominent member of his government and a Pashtun."
Mr. Qadir's body was expected to be flown later to his ancestral home in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
Mr. Karzai declared that Tuesday would be a national day of mourning and said flags would be flown at half staff throughout Afghanistan and at Afghan diplomatic missions.
Mr. Qadir, a tall and imposing man with a trim white beard, was one of three newly appointed vice presidents and public works minister in Mr. Karzai's government.
A member of Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, he had a power base was in the strategic eastern province of Nangarhar, where Osama bin Laden set up his base in the early 1990s.
But he was also a rare Pashtun member of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, which swept into Kabul with U.S. help in November to oust their longtime foes and bin Laden's protector, the Taliban.
His assassination highlights the problems facing Mr. Karzai just weeks after a loya jirga, or grand assembly, of Afghan leaders approved a Cabinet to lead the country out of 23 years of war and prepare for elections in 18 months.
The loya jirga faced the tough task of finding a government acceptable to the Pashtuns, which make up about 40 percent of the population, the Northern Alliance, which has a strong presence on the ground, and the various warlords who dominate swaths of the country.
"If this government falls, then you go back to civil war, the north against the south," historian Martin McCauley told Sky TV.
Mr. Qadir was the second Cabinet minister killed since the Taliban were ousted from power last year.
In February, Tourism Minister Abdul Rehman was killed at the airport under circumstances that have never been made clear.
Chief Salangi, the Kabul police head, said 10 guards, who had been appointed by Mr. Qadir's predecessor at the Public Works Ministry, Abdul Khaliq Fazal, had been arrested after the assassination.
Mr. Qadir's brother, Abdul Haq, was executed by the Taliban shortly after the United States began air strikes last year to punish the Taliban for sheltering bin Laden, the September 11 mastermind.
Mr. Karzai made Mr. Qadir one of his vice presidents last month in an attempt to appease the country's majority Pashtuns.
Last year, Mr. Qadir walked out of U.N.-sponsored talks near Bonn, which set up the first interim government after the Taliban, because of what he considered a lack of Pashtun representation at the deliberations.
Mr. Qadir's personal history was colorful and often controversial, making it difficult to speculate on who might have decided to kill him.
A guerrilla commander during the 1980s war against the Soviets, Mr. Qadir belonged to the conservative Hezb-i-Islami party, led by Islamic cleric Yunus Khalis, whose farm in Nangarhar's Farmada region housed hundreds of al Qaeda fighters during the Taliban regime.
As governor of eastern Nangarhar province in 1996, before the Taliban took power, Mr. Qadir welcomed bin Laden when he arrived in Jalalabad with 180 Arab followers on a chartered jet from Sudan.
Bin Laden remained in the area as the Taliban marched through Jalalabad, taking control and pushing on to Kabul in September 1996.
Mr. Qadir, whose son spent more than one year in a Taliban jail, fled to Germany where he had business interests. He later returned and maintained soldiers in the Panjshir Valley with the Northern Alliance to battle the Taliban.


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