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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.

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The strong natural defenses of Panjshir allowed the late commander Ahmad Shah Massoud and his dwindling Northern Alliance fighters to resist the Taliban right up until he was killed days before Sept. 11, 2001. Nowadays, the same barriers – and the historic grudge – have kept the Taliban-led insurgency out.

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Indeed, when an explosion echoed throughout the capital of Parakh on Thursday, a group of uniformed police didn't even look up from their game of volleyball. Dynamite here is for construction and mining, not destruction and death.

And that's the way people want to keep it, despite their short fuses over the election.

"I'm sure if one person starts something against the government, everyone will follow him," says Abdul Kabir, a local teacher. But "if we start to protest, we are destroying our own country."

His school has been shuttered since Sunday. The Karzai government ordered all schools and mosques to be closed for three weeks, ostensibly because of the arrival of swine flu to the country. The order came one day after Dr. Abdullah quit.

"I don't think the government gave three weeks off because of the swine flu. It was about the election," says Mr. Kabir. "If [students] were here at school or university, they might be demonstrating against the government."

Governor Bahij implied the closures were suspect, but nevertheless worries about demonstrations that could be "a very good opportunity for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden to recruit people."

Rattled by foreign role in elections

Mr. Barfield says the odds are "zero" of Panjshiris – the last, dogged holdouts against the Taliban government that ruled between 1996 and 2001 – joining the Taliban insurgency. He reads Bahij's statement as a plea for international attention to the situation.

Yet Abdullah supporters are clearly rattled by the international community's role in the election. The Taliban's efforts to portray themselves as nationalists fighting foreign occupation may resonate more, even among the unlikely Panjshiris.

"I haven't heard yet that anybody is going to join the Taliban, but it's possible they will, because the elections were not legitimate, they were full of fraud," says Ahmed Zia, a religious instructor at the local madrassah, or religious school. "The Taliban are from Afghanistan, and they are doing these things because foreign countries are here."

A dream denied after Taliban's fall

Just north of Parakh rises Salaar Hill and a stone tower marking the gravesite of the fallen commander, Mr. Massoud. Below the tower lies a collection of tanks, artillery pieces, and signboards with giant National Geographic photos of Massoud.

In one photo, the smiling hero stands in a paddlewheel ferry like Gen. George Washington crossing the Delaware. At his side stands his trusty lieutenant and would-be heir, Abdullah Abdullah.