After Afghanistan election, governors seek distance from 'illegal' Karzai
In Panjshir Province, Governor Bahij says he wants to thwart protest of Afghanistan election. But he wants more autonomy.
Haji Bahlol Bahij, a hulking former commander who governs one of Afghanistan's most peaceful provinces, serves at the pleasure of President Hamid Karzai. But that doesn't stop him from bluntly calling his boss's election "illegal" and achieved through fraud.Skip to next paragraph
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The Panjshiris overwhelmingly voted against Mr. Karzai – and there's volatile anger on the street here about the fraud and corruption surrounding his reelection. But memories of the country's decades of war also run deep. From the governor on down to ordinary citizens, people are tempering their fiery rhetoric out of concern it could lead to the firing of guns.
"We don't know what to do about this government," says Bahij, who rules out street protests. "In America and in other developed countries, if there is a demonstration or a protest, it's going to be peaceful. But here in Afghanistan, I can assure you that if there is a protest, they are not going to do it in a peaceful way."
Many of Afghanistan's most secure and prosperous regions voted for Karzai opponent Abdullah Abdullah. Now, they face the prospect that their provincial leaders – who are appointed by Karzai – will be removed and their regions allowed to backslide by a weak and antagonistic central government. As a result, all eyes are on the governors, who may argue that while stability rests on their willingness to stifle street protests, it is also linked to Kabul's willingness to loosen its grip in their provinces.
"If [the governors] just laid down the gauntlet, and said, 'Listen, I don't care what the Constitution says, your government isn't moving into the province without our say so,' that could have a lot of local support," says Thomas Barfield, an expert on Afghanistan at Boston University in Massachusetts. "If one person does it, it could spread like wildfire."
Bahij says he will take his cues from Dr. Abdullah, whom he doesn't expect to call for anything illegal. At the same time, he singled out Abdullah's campaign platform calling for governors and other provincial officials to be locally chosen.
Meanwhile, Atta Mohammad Noor, another governor who rules over the pivotal northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, is reportedly making veiled threats of street violence if Karzai doesn't agree to decentralize.
Explosions? That's construction, mining
Two hours north of Kabul, armed guards stop and register all vehicles before allowing entrance to the Panjshir River gorge. Barren mountains press in close, leaving room only for the road and the river, which even in late autumn sends mighty emerald swells over the boulders.