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Influential Afghan Warlord Jostles For Power Sharing

File photo of Ismail Khan with a Tajik official.
File photo of Ismail Khan with a Tajik official.

HERAT, Afghanistan's national unity government has rebuked a warlord who criticized the administration for leaving the remnants of anti-Soviet guerilla factions out of key posts.

Javed Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan's chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah, admonished a regional strongman for complaining about the lack of mujahedin figures in the cabinet.

"Having participated in the [anti-Soviet] jihad [in the 1980s] is not a criterion for assuming power. Not everyone who contributed to the jihad can be included in the government," he told Radio Free Afghanistan on February 9. "We appoint people to government posts because of their education, work and management experience in a particular field."

His comments follow an angry outburst by Ismail Khan, a warlord and former government minister who once ruled parts of western Afghanistan.

Speaking to thousands of his supporters in the western province of Herat on February 8, Khan criticized the government.

"When a majority of the cabinet members are communists and 50 percent of cabinet members hold dual citizenship, they cannot bring peace to our country," he said.

Speaking to Radio Free Afghanistan on February 9, Khan said security has sharply deteriorated and rich businessman and investors are leaving the region since the national unity government assumed office in September.

"Insecurity has increased manyfold since President [Ashraf Ghani] visited Herat [in December] and ordered some administrative changes," he said.

Ghani sacked many senior Herati officials on December 27. The provincial heads of the attorney's office, the oil, power and customs departments, and the director of education and police chiefs in all 15 of Herat's districts were among those he fired after wide-ranging consultations with local residents.

Observers say most of the sacked officials were close to Khan, who has dominated the region after emerging as a leading anti-Soviet guerilla commander in the 1980s. Herat became Khan's fiefdom after the fall of the Afghan communist regime in 1992. He fled Herat when the hardline Taliban swept Afghanistan in 1996.

After being betrayed by an ally, Khan spent years in Taliban captivity and returned as the governor of Herat following the demise of the Taliban in late 2001. Bowing to considerable Western pressure, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai persuaded Khan to leave Herat in 2004 to become the energy minister in Kabul.

Khan backed Abdullah in the second round of last year's protracted presidential election but is apparently bitter over being left out of the government following a power-sharing deal between Abdullah and Ghani in September.

In an apparent show of anger last month over being left out of the proposed cabinet, Khan warned of a "greater war."

He accused Abdullah of committing an "unforgivable betrayal" for failing to represent Herat in the new cabinet.

"The fingers of Herati voters were chopped and some were even killed during [last year's presidential election,] but now they are bitterly disappointed," Khan said. "Abdullah has completely betrayed the people of Herat because they gave him more votes than any other candidate."

Mohammad Younus Fakoor, a Kabul-based Afghan political analyst, says Khan is trying to pressure the national unity government leaders to grant him a share of the senior government posts.

But he sees little chance of Khan's strategies succeeding. "I think the time for such tactics is over," he said. "Khan should acknowledge his defeat and extend his unconditional support to the government for rebuilding our nation."

Four months after assuming office, Afghanistan's national unity government is far from complete. After weeks of wrangling, Afghan Parliament only approved eight out of the 25 cabinet nominees in late January.

Afghans expect intense political jockeying for the remaining cabinet positions in the weeks and months ahead.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story. It is based on reporting by Shahpur Saber and Rehmatullah Afghan in Herat and Kabul, Afghanistan.