Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Karzai picks new running mate for October election

BUILDING BRIDGES?The Afghan president has dumped his foreign minister in favor of a running mate who enjoys support from warlords


President Hamid Karzai surprised many on Monday by entering the October presidential race with the brother of a martyred hero as his choice for vice president, rather than his powerful defense minister.

Karzai's decision to drop the defense minister, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, showed the growing divide within the government over the persistence of armed private militias, which the president has called the greatest threat to the country's nascent democracy.

Fahim has the support of many of the powerful warlords and regional commanders in the north who have felt increasingly unhappy with efforts to disarm them and to reduce their power in the central government.

Karzai's action was hailed by diplomats as a bold move and a message to all of the warlords to disarm and work in favor of elections. But it also showed his political shortcomings.

Karzai's new vice-presidential nominee, Ahmed Zia Massoud, is a younger brother of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the commander of the Northern Alliance who was killed by al-Qaeda suicide bombers on Sept. 9, 2001. Dressed in a dark suit and tie, he stood beside Karzai at a news conference at the presidential palace. He has been serving for the past few years as Afghan ambassador to Russia.

The decision came after intense negotiations and heightened tension in the capital in recent days as Fahim, the defense minister, pressed hard to retain his other position as first vice president.

Immediately after Karzai's announcement, the education minister, Yunus Qanooni, announced his candidacy for president and said he was resigning from the government. He said he had the support of Fahim; the foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah; and Massoud's younger brother, Ahmed Wali Massoud, who represent the core of the Panjshiri group, which has until now played a dominant role in Karzai's transitional administration.

Qanooni, who last month expressed his support for Karzai for president, is likely to represent the most serious challenge to Karzai in the Oct. 9 election.

Karzai did not suggest any role for Fahim in a future government.

"I wish him happiness and good, but unfortunately he is not among us in this team," Karzai said.

The president had been scheduled to visit Pakistan this week but suddenly postponed the visit Sunday when the crisis over Fahim arose.

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