The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timeslead, and the Washington Postoff-leads, the swearing-in ceremony of Hamid Karzai as chairman of an interim government to replace the defeated Taliban in Afghanistan. The Post leads, and the others front, the American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami that was diverted and escorted to Boston’s Logan International Airport by two F-15 fighter jets. A passenger may have been trying to detonate his shoes with a substance “C-4 in nature.”
Karzai’s government is to administer the country for six months, the first stage of a political transition intended to lead to elections within two and a half years. In six months agrand tribal council will be called to choose a transitional government. In another two years, Afghanistan is expected to hold democratic elections.
After pleading with his countrymen “to come together and be brothers and sisters,” Karzai swore in the 29 members of his cabinet. Eleven departments will be headed by Pashtuns, eight by Tajiks, five by Hazaras, three by Uzbeks, and three by other minorities. Karzai and three Northern Alliance leaders are expected to dominate the cabinet.
Tears flowed freely amongst the crowd of 2000, report the NYT and the WP, especially when the name of the slain General Massoud was invoked. Perhaps the most emotional moment, according to the NYT, came when the Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel said, “I am sure that Mr. Massoud is proud of his nation today.” Throughout the ceremony, speakers were interrupted with cries of “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.”
The Post reports that Karzai delivered his speech “in Pashto and Dari, Afghanistan’s two main languages.” Did he give the speech in Pashto or Dari? The papers don’t say in their lead stories. The NYT and LAT also duly note (praise?) Karzai’s “fluent English” in his post-ceremony press conference.
Folded into their ceremony stories, the WP and NYT give an update on the Pentagon’s explanation of the air attack of an al-Qaida convoy. The Pentagon is sticking by its story, maintaining that the convoy was carrying al-Qaida operatives. “It looks like it was a good target at this point,” the NYT quotes Gen. Franks. However, local villagers say that they were tribal leaders heading to the swearing-in ceremony and that false information could have been fed to U.S. forces in order to settle an old score.
The papers are fairly unanimous on their account of the Miami-bound flight. However, many questions remain as to the nature of the explosive, as well as the man’s ethnicity. It all started when an alert flight attendant smelled sulfur from a match the passenger had lit. The passenger, identified by Boston authorities as Richard Reid, was then overpowered by flight attendants and other passengers. Two doctors on board sedated him several times during the rest of the two-hour flight, using medicine in the plane’s medical kit.
Authorities are not certain whether or not the passenger’s shoes were in fact padded with C-4. While the substance was “consistent with C-4,” dogs trained to detect C-4 did not react, according to the Post. And the Post quotes government sources that the man could have just been trying to light a cigarette.
In any event, the passenger was flying with a British passport that was issued in Belgium three weeks ago. The Times concludes that the passport was “falsified,” though the other papers hedge their bets a little more.
In the Post, officials describe the passenger as appearing to be “of Middle Eastern descent.” Not so, say the officials cited in the LAT: “He was not believed to be of Middle Eastern descent, authorities said.” Adding to the mix, the NYT reports that he told other passengers that he was Jamaican.
The Post fronts a story by Bob Woodward that for the last four years the CIA has been paying a team of 15 recruited Afghan agents to track Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. According to Woodward’s “well-placed source” the Afghan team had mixed results. On some days the team provided his precise location, but it would also lose him for weeks.
The story also reveals that the National Security Council was working on a proposal for a new CIA Bin Laden program, to the tune of $200 million a year. Under the proposal, the CIA would have been authorized to destabilize the Taliban and commissioned to destroy Bin Laden’s organization worldwide. The plan was almost ready to be presented to Bush before Sept. 11.
In more front-page Bin Laden coverage, the Post looks at the relationship between the Taliban, al-Qaida, and Bin Laden. The story attempts to piece together a portrait of Bin Laden’s organization from clues left by fleeing al-Qaida agents and interviews with Taliban insiders. It seems that Bin Laden and al-Qaida created a society within a society in Afghanistan. They ran their own schools and grocery stores. Billeted in Kabul’s best neighborhoods, al-Qaida forces used Bin Laden’s personal fortune to buy independence from the Taliban, which needed the cash.
The NYT reefers word that India is considering using military force to crack down on Pakistan-based groups (in Kashmir) that India blames for the attacking its parliament on Dec. 13. The escalating tensions between India and Pakistan has U.S. officials worried that its efforts to round up al-Qaida minions fleeing into Pakistan will be undermined. The Times notes that on Friday, India recalled its envoy to Pakistan for the first time in 30 years. India has also ended bus and train service to Pakistan.
Hollywood isn’t done with Ali yet:
Hollywood plans to recruit Muhammad Ali to explain America to the Muslim world, reports the NYT. After studio execs met with Bush adviser Karl Rove, a group called “Hollywood 9/11” was formed to contribute to the war effort. Still, the Champ and the studios have yet to ink a contract and are weeks away from filming any spots. Says Jack Valenti, Hollywood’s man in Washington, “We’re trying not to be the poodle of the White House. If it looks like you’re under government supervision, you lose all of the integrity of the message.”