Abdul Qadir, a key member of Afghanistan's government, was gunned down in broad daylight in Kabul yesterday, threatening to shatter the fragile peace imposed by the US-led coalition after the fall of the Taliban.
Two gunmen opened fire as Mr Qadir, public works minister in President Hamid Karzai's government and one of three recently appointed vice-presidents, left the grounds of his ministry. His Toyota Land Cruiser crashed into a wall as bullets riddled the side and windscreen, killing both Mr Qadir and his driver and wounding two passengers. Both gunmen escaped, speeding away in a taxi.
President George Bush, who was spending his 56th birthday at his family's holiday compound in Maine, said yesterday: "My administration and our country mourns the loss of a man who desired freedom and stability for the country he loved." He offered American help in tracking down those responsible. The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, called the killing "a terrible and shocking event".
The death of Mr Qadir, a crucial link between the majority Pashtun community and the Northern Alliance, the mainly Tajik and Uzbek group that ousted the Taliban last year with Western help, adds to the problems facing Mr Karzai. Yesterday the US commander in Afghanistan acknowledged that Afghan civilians had been killed in an air strike last week, and promised to find ways to avoid such mistakes in future.
The Afghans say 48 people were killed and 117 wounded in the attack in Uruzgan province, including 25 members of an extended family who were celebrating a wedding.
They were all Pashtuns, like Mr Karzai, who has to reassure his community that he is not yielding too much power to the country's other ethnic groups. Mr Qadir, however, was one of the few other Pashtuns in the government and the most senior apart from the President. Although he had many enemies, it is possible that remnants of the Taliban who regarded him as a traitor to Pashtuns were responsible for his murder.
Britain recently handed over control of the peacekeeping force in Kabul to Turkey, but Mr Straw said he was confident that Mr Karzai's administration would survive the latest attack. The government has little control outside the capital, however, and may have trouble persuading the international community to send large numbers of troops back into the country if it is faced with a serious threat to its stability.
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