Afghan Warlord Muddles Interim Government's Plans - NY Times
- Afghan Warlord Muddles Interim Government's Plans
By DAVID ROHDE
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 20 ? Over the last three
weeks, Afghanistan's interim leader has declared him a
wanted killer. A handpicked successor has been
dispatched here to dethrone him, and 3,000 government
troops in Kabul have been put on alert to attack him.
But today Padsha Khan Zadran did what he has done for
the last several months: laughed at Hamid Karzai and
his interim government in Kabul. "Mr. Karzai has some
problem with his mind," Mr. Zadran said this
afternoon, as a smug grin spread across his leathery
face. "He is nothing. He is a common man."
Three weeks after Mr. Karzai demanded Mr. Zadran's
arrest, this warlord is the most glaring example in
Afghanistan of the central government's inability to
control events outside of Kabul, the capital.
Mr. Zadran still controls large swathes of Khost and
Paktia province, strategic areas where American forces
are hunting for Al Qaeda fighters. The threatened
military attack is on hold. Further, Mr. Zadran, a
fierce, illiterate man brimming with bluster, appears
to have grown even bolder.
After delivering his usual taunts aimed at Mr. Karzai
this afternoon, Mr. Zadran announced that he would
attend the loya jirga, a grand council of leaders and
tribal elders from around the country planned for
mid-June that will choose a government for the next
His goal? To unseat Mr. Karzai. "I will send my
representatives and I will go myself," he said as he
sat in the governor's complex here that he was ordered
to leave months ago. "Karzai is only a temporary
chairman. Nobody supports him."
Mr. Zadran's threat is largely empty. He is unlikely
to go to the loya jirga, where he could easily be
arrested. But he remains a glaring failure for the
Karzai government as political violence appears to be
spreading gradually. A man was shot dead Sunday after
winning the first of two rounds to represent the
western district of Chaghcharan at the loya jirga. It
was the first killing to mar the selection process.
Mr. Zadran's position here appears intact. Scores of
men toting assault rifles and wearing bandoleers
milled around the governor's complex here today. A
dozen tribal elders lined up outside his door to pay
their respects. Hakim Taniwal, the soft-spoken
sociology professor sent to unseat him, remains in the
governor's official guest house a mile away.
Western diplomats and some of Mr. Zadran's Afghan
rivals blame the United States military for propping
him up. American Special Forces have hired 600 of Mr.
Zadran's soldiers and 500 of Mr. Taniwal's soldiers to
help seal the nearby border with Pakistan, a move that
rivals say inflates Mr. Zadran's political and
In an interview tonight, Mr. Taniwal, an Afghan exile
who left his wife and children and a comfortable
teaching position in Melbourne, Australia, to take on
Mr. Zadran, said he was the one who asked Mr. Karzai
to hold off on a military attack.
Wearing white trousers and tunic and a prayer cap in a
room full of ferocious-looking men in black turbans,
he looked and sounded like the out-of-place academic
he is in Khost. A volatile provincial capital near the
Pakistan border, Khost was once a Qaeda and Taliban
"I want to remove the Kalashnikov culture," he said,
using the name of a popular rifle to refer to the
decade-old Afghan practice of resolving political
disputes with force. "I am a teacher, not a
He proceeded to lay out a strategy that was a
microcosm of the gamble Mr. Karzai's government and
his American backers appear to be taking across
Afghanistan. Instead of confronting Mr. Zadran with
force, Mr. Taniwal hopes to bury his rival with cash.
Mr. Taniwal is mounting a two-pronged effort to show
local residents and local gunmen that he has the funds
from international donors to pay salaries. At the same
time, he is trying to cut off Mr. Zadran's access to
all local government agencies that produce revenue.
"I am cutting his sources," Mr. Taniwal proudly
announced tonight. "He cannot pay his people." He went
on to predict optimistically that Mr. Zadran would
surrender to the authorities before the loya jirga
convenes on June 10.
The same dynamic is occurring on a national scale. The
United States and other countries are funneling much
of their aid money through Kabul to give Mr. Karzai
economic leverage over defiant warlords.
But this morning Mr. Zadran insisted that he still
controlled revenue-producing offices in the local
government. There is also a panoply of practices ?
like smuggling ? that Mr. Zadran and other warlords
can use to raise cash.
This afternoon, he held court in the governor's office
as a dozen elders from his native Zadran tribe paid
their respects. He looked on like a beaming father
when one tribal leader assailed Mr. Karzai for
unfairly attacking Mr. Zadran. He then stood up and
excused himself. "I have many tribal leaders who have
come to see me," he said. "I have to go."
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