The murder Saturday of Afghan Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir sent the world’s papers into a frenzy of gloom and doom. The Financial Times said the incident “has thrown the stability of President Hamid Karzai’s government into question and shattered the optimism that had built up following last month’s loya jirga.” As Britain’s Observer noted, Qadir was one of the few members of Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun tribe to exercise influence with the predominantly Tajik Northern Alliance; consequently he “played an important role maintaining good relations between Afghanistan’s fractious minorities.” Qadir’s appointment as one of Afghanistan’s three vice presidents and as the minister for public works was widely interpreted as an attempt by Karzai to improve the government’s ethnic balance. Despite his longstanding association with the Northern Alliance, Qadir’s tribal credentials were impeccable—last December he stormed out of the Bonn peace talks to protest Pashtun under-representation.
The Observer pointed out that the murder “will embarrass the international peacekeeping force, now led by Turkey. The security of Ministers and government facilities was among the primary missions of the force … last December,” and yet Qadir is the second Cabinet minister to be assassinated in the last six months—the aviation minister was slain in February. For the News International of Pakistan, this proves that the interim Afghan administration “is not doing enough to meet its foremost goal—re-establishing the writ of law lost in years of war and civil strife. … It is time for Karzai government to realise that clouds of political instability and insecurity—rooted in never ending tribal, ethnic, religious and political conflicts and discords—are still as dark as before.” In an editorial headlined “Forebodings of Disaster,” the Khaleej Timesof Dubai expressed little hope that Karzai could meet the challenges to his authority represented by “political killings and [U.S.] bombardment blunders.” It said:
On the one hand, he has to find a delicate balance between allaying Afghan concerns about US military conduct and America’s need for a free hand to continue its anti-terror campaign. On the other hand, he has to put his domestic house in order so that the message that ordinary Afghans get is one of forgiveness and reconciliation rather than vengeance and bloodletting. The fact that lawlessness and grinding poverty hold much of the country in thrall reflects poorly on the Karzai cabinet’s governing ability. That ineffectual image will not be improved by Qadir’s assassination.
Although the 10 security guards who were protecting Qadir were arrested for failing to intervene when gunmen attacked his official vehicle, the killers have not yet been identified. There is clearly no shortage of suspects, however. Libérationof Paris said he had numerous enemies “jealous of his status as the strongman of Nangahar province, his political influence, and his success in business.” Several papers suggested that, as the London Times’ obituary put it, “His wealth came from controlling the drugs supply chain” in Nangahar—the second-largest opium-producing area in the country. An AP story in Canada’s Globe and Mail added, “He was also reputed to have run a lucrative smuggling network that brought goods from the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan.”