Council must contend with powerful local commanders

War on terrorism

By Patrick Cockburn
Thursday 06 December 2001 01:00

Abdul Ahmed, a warlord whose fiefdom is just outside Kabul on the road to Kandahar, is among those who will decide the fate of the power-sharing government for Afghanistan agreed in Bonn.

So far he is not impressed. Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun leader who will chair the interim government, is there "because of pressure from the outside world, but he is not wanted by Afghans. He has done no fighting against the Taliban," Mr Ahmed said sourly.

Surrounded by his retainers in the village of Maidanshar, the warlord claimed Mr Karzai had exaggerated accounts of the assault he was leading against the Taliban in Kandahar.

He said: [Karzai] told people he was an old man who had come to unify, not to fight. If he had really done any fighting, like the Northern Alliance, we might be in Kandahar by now. He is not a well-known person."

Mr Ahmed said he thought that the Taliban in Kandahar "might hold out for a long time because the city is the centre of their movement".

It is impossible to check Mr Ahmed's allegations, but the views of warlords matter because they control most of Afghanistan. The interim government will find it hard to operate without their assent.

Although the Northern Alliance captured Kabul, warlords are determined to assert their control over their own districts. Mr Ahmed had just fought a small private war with Gholam Mohammed, another leader who recently switched sides from the Taliban. "It was really just about power," one of his soldiers said. "He wanted Gholam's heavy weapons."

Mr Ahmed was also dubious about international troops. He said: "We will welcome the UN if they bring peace, but then many Afghans welcomed the Soviets when they first came."

Afghans are hopeful but wary about what has been agreed in Bonn. They remember that some of the factions agreeing to share power fought a civil war from 1992 to 1996 that killed 100,000 people in Kabul.

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