Fresh questions were raised about the viability of Afghanistan’s new government following Saturday’s fatal ambush of Vice President Hajji Abdul Qadir. Qadir, one of five Afghan vice presidents, died as two gunmen sprayed his vehicle with bullets as he was leaving his Kabul office.

The long list of his possible assailants reveals much about the potential fracture lines beneath the surface of the administration President Hamid Karzai announced following last month’s Loya Jirga assembly.

In the 1980s Qadir was a leading mujahedin commander fighting the Soviet-supported national-democratic government of the People’s Democratic Party. An ethnic Pashtun, he rose through a series of complex rivalries to become the most powerful figure in eastern Afghanistan. He reputedly became one of Afghanistan’s wealthiest men, largely through involvement with the opium poppy trade while governor of Nangarhar Province, bordering Pakistan, in the ’90s. Paradoxically, in the new government, Qadir was assigned to eradicate the poppy industry.

As one of the few Pashtun leaders of the Northern Alliance during the U.S.-led fight to defeat the Taliban, Qadir was rewarded by being reappointed to his old governorship – but not without a bitter three-way struggle for dominance in the area.

Speculation has ranged over many possible assassins: drug traders, rivals either Pashtuns or from different ethnic groups, remnants of the Taliban or Al Qaeda, or Pashtun arch-rival Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most rabid mujahedin commanders of the 1980s, who has vowed to overturn the new government.

Though the new government was supposed to open an era of greater unity, regional warlords retain their private armies and weapons supplies. In the north, rivalry between Uzbek Gen. Rashid Dostum and Tajik Gen. Atta Mohammed has led international aid organizations to threaten to leave. The area around Kandahar is controlled by longtime boss Gul Agha, while Ismail Khan, rumored to have the country’s largest private army, dominates western Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, more horror stories are surfacing from the U.S. bombing of a wedding party in central Uruzgan province last week. Australian ABC reported an area Afghan commander’s charges that U.S. soldiers stormed the homes of Afghan villagers after the bombing, and barred people from treating their wounded relatives. Mohammad Anwar, a senior Karzai-appointed military commander in neighboring Kandahar Province, said U.S. troops stormed the house of his brother, who was hosting a huge pre-wedding party for his son on June 30, when U.S. airships strafed several area villages.

He said the toll of 48 killed would have been less if relatives had been allowed to treat the injured or take them to the hospital. “Many of the injured with broken arms and broken legs died due to loss of blood,” Anwar said. “Until seven or eight o’clock in the morning the Americans did not allow anyone to help the injured and to cover the bodies.”

Kandahar’s top official, Gul Agha, blamed an error by the U.S. pilot of the AC-130 gunship for the attack, which he said in any case was based on faulty intelligence.

The author can be reached at cpusainternat@mindspring.com

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