Wednesday, March 10, 2004

WHAT'S GOING ON IN KABUL? CONTINUED... We know that New York Times correspondent David Rhode used to report from Kabul. But then he left. Is he back? Anyway, Rhode's story is relatively short but still very important.

"There were a lot of other problems in the cabinet," said the former cabinet minister, Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq. "But because of the national interest we had to keep quiet."

Mr. Mohaqiq's comments suggested ethnic divisions as well as tensions between Afghans like himself who stayed and fought Soviet forces and those who fled to relatively comfortable exile in the West.

At a constitutional convention completed in January, disputes flared between Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group, and Tajiks and Hazaras, two important minorities.

Senior Afghan officials disclosed this week that Abdullah, the country's foreign minister and a leading Tajik, was so angry at Pashtun actions during the convention that he briefly resigned.

In his comments on Tuesday, Mr. Mohaqiq, an ethnic Hazara who fought the Soviets and Taliban, accused Ashraf Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun minister and close ally of Mr. Karzai who went into exile in the United States, of undermining his authority as planning minister. Mr. Mohaqiq voiced a common complaint among veterans of the long struggle against the Soviets. "Maybe there are some other circles who are destroying jihadis," he said, referring to those who fought the Soviets in a jihad, or holy war. "My dismissal is an illegal dismissal and Mr. Karzai has done it by force."

Jawed Ludin, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said that Mr. Mohaqiq's departure from a cabinet meeting on Sunday after saying that there was no place for him there was taken as a "declaration of resignation."

Asked about reports that Mr. Mohaqiq had raised ethnic differences at the meeting, Mr. Ludin said, "He raised inappropriate questions and addressed them to the president."

At the constitutional convention, ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras complained of heavy-handed tactics by Pashtuns, particularly by Mr. Ghani and Mr. Karzai's brothers, Qayyum and Wali. They accused the Pashtun officials of playing an ethnic card. "People left more polarized," said a senior official who is an ethnic Tajik.

A separate dispute at the convention involving the foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah, who uses one name, centered on the issue of Afghans who remained during years of war and those who went into exile.

Senior Afghan officials said that during the convention Dr. Abdullah, who stayed in Afghanistan during the fighting, pushed for a requirement that no cabinet minister be able to hold dual citizenship, as do Mr. Ghani and Interior Minister Ali Jalali, who also lived in exile. Both men are ethnic Pashtuns. Dr. Abdullah resigned at one point over the citizenship issue, but withdrew his resignation when a compromise was reached, senior officials said.

A senior Pashtun official said the tactics were not "heavy-handed" and said Tajiks were playing the ethnic card. He said he believed the dual citizenship issue was an effort by Dr. Abdullah to single out certain Pashtun ministers.
Can you imagine the headlines if the dual-citizenship issue had stopped the ratification of the new Afghan constitution? Anyhow, I think the jihad veterans are being overzealous. Abdullah, Ghani and Jalali (the last one was my colleague briefly at the Voice of America) are all patriotic Afghans. Abdullah--who was taught English by British MI-6 agents--was Ahmed Shah Massoud's confidant. Ghani and Jalali left very lucrative lives behind in Northern Virginia to help rebuild their country.

For the record, I don't believe Abdullah would quit his job as Foreign Minister. No way; he's having too much fun and he has a lot of friends in different places (such as the United Nations, Foggy Bottom and France)!

UPDATE: Where is the Post's Pamela Constable when you need her?

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