Afghan puzzle: Who shot Qadir?

Saturday's mysterious assassination of an Afghan vice president raises concerns about stability.

One of Afghanistan's most revered and controversial warlords, Haji Abdul Qadir, was mourned Sunday in Kabul as thousands streamed into the city's largest mosque. After the ceremony, an Afghan Army helicopter flew the body of the newly-appointed vice president back to his home for burial in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

Mr. Qadir's assassination Saturday casts fresh doubt on the viability of the Western-backed Afghan government, and its ability to maintain security in the capital and in the remote provinces where political rivalries still threaten to explode into civil war.

Qadir was one of five vice presidents and one of the few Pashtuns in an administration dominated by Tajiks, an ethnic minority in Afghanistan. And he's the second senior official in President Hamid Karzai's administration to be murdered under mysterious circumstances in the past four months.

Sunday, Mr. Karzai announced an investigation into the assassination. A day earlier, two unknown assailants armed with Kalashnikovs waited near the entrance of Qadir's office. When Qadir's truck drove out, the gunmen riddled it with 36 rounds before fleeing the scene in a white taxi. His driver was also killed and two passengers wounded.

Police have arrested 10 security guards who were on duty at the Ministry of Public Works where Qadir was slain.

"This is a tragedy for my family," said Din Mohammed, an elder brother, speaking at Sunday's funeral. "I don't know whom to blame."

Sunday Kabul was rife with speculation – and sporadic gunfire. Some Afghan leaders say the killers were linked to the ousted Taliban regime. Others suggest that it could be a drug-related attack, since Qadir was the governor of a major opium producing province. Another theory is that it was a vendetta by a rival from last year's battle for Tora Bora.

Gen. Juraat Khan Panjshiri, the Tajik chief of security for Afghanistan's interior ministry, blames what he calls "enemies of the government and members of Al Qaeda and antigovernment groups" for the assassination of Qadir. But the moderate Pashtun leader, who was an avid follower of the Afghanistan's popular Sufi brand of Islam, was also a strong advocate of extending the olive branch to former Taliban leaders and bringing them into the government.

Prof. Kamran Jabbar Khil, a close friend of Qadir, accuses Kabul's police force, which includes international peacekeepers, of laziness and slumber. "Why did no one stop the two armed men as they fled the scene?" he asks. The professor says Qadir had been pilloried lately by his Tajik rivals for arguing that his fellow Pashtuns had been deprived of rights in the new Afghan administration.

Yet even in the last year as Afghanistan's loose rivalries and allegiances shifted, Qadir had made enemies both in the lucrative opium trade that once made his family rich and among his fellow Pashtuns in eastern Afghanistan. Some Pashtuns saw him as a "sell-out" to the country's dominant Northern Alliance, which helped him sideline his rivals in the Jalalabad area.

The murder in full daylight in front of a government office immediately cast new doubt on the ability of the Turkish-led international peacekeeping force (ISAF) to protect key ministers, one of the mission's stated tasks.

"We believe it was an individual attack, designed to destabilize the transitional government," said Col. Samet Oz, a Turkish Army spokesman. Last month, Turkey took over command of the estimated 5,000 soldiers, whose peacekeeping task is separate from the US-led mission in Afghanistan.

Qadir's death comes seven months after the former governor of Nangarhar province achieved a measure of ignominy for his involvement in the battle for Tora Bora last year. During that battle, launched as Osama bin Laden escaped his former Al Qaeda training base, Qadir became a strong critic of US military strategy.

But when the ground battle to seize Tora Bora was launched, Qadir sent his own son, Haji Zahir, with nearly 700 of the family's Pashtun allies into the fray.

The governor also played a behind-the-scenes role in arranging expensive lodging and transportation for scores of foreign journalists who arrived to witness the battle. He was later accused by his rival, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, of running "a racket" to enrich his own family while his security chief helped senior Al Qaeda leaders escape into Pakistan.

The rivalry intensified this past April when unknown assassins exploded a bomb near a car carrying Afghanistan's defense minister, Gen. Muhammad Fahim, who was on his way to see Qadir. Qadir accused Mr. Ghamsharik of the attack and searched his headquarters. The embittered rival fled to neighboring Pakistan, vowing revenge.

But Afghan observers say that the assassins could also have been members of Afghanistan's powerful drug mafia, angry with Qadir for his new support of a Western-backed program to eradicate opium poppy cultivation.

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