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The Telegraph, June 16, 2009

Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai accused of compiling coalition of ‘gangsters and warlords’

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been accused of completing a coalition of "gangsters and warlords" after rehabilitating a notoriously brutal strongman in a suspected election deal.

By Ben Farmer in Kabul

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek militia leader, once boasted of pulverising thieving soldiers on his tank tracks, while his men were accused of suffocating hundreds of captives by packing them into shipping containers.

Hamid Karzai with Fahim and Khalili
RAWA: Hamid Karzai named Qasim Fahim (left) as first and Karim Khalili (right) as second vice president, both of them notorious warlords accused of war crimes, brutalities and corruption. (Photo: Reuters)

Human Rights Watch: "He [Fahim] is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers."

He was temporarily suspended from his post as chief of staff to the military's commander-in-chief last year after the alleged kidnap and torture of a political rival.

Since then, he has lived in informal exile in Turkey under a deal in which Mr Karzai's international backers sought to marginalise him from Afghan politics.

However, days after Gen Dostum's party pledged electoral backing to the president, a statement from Mr Karzai's palace has now stressed the general has full rights and is free to return whenever he wishes.

The addition of Gen Dostum, who leads northern Afghanistan's Uzbek faction, sees Mr Karzai complete a controversial alliance of ethnic strongmen and former warlords for this summer's presidential elections.

Mr Karzai last month defied international diplomats by choosing Mohammad Qasim Fahim, another ex-militia leader, as his running mate.

"You have to question whether these people are the right people to lead the country forward," said one international official in Kabul.

"They are gangsters and warlords. Just because someone is good with an AK-47 doesn't mean they will be good for the country's future."

Western diplomats have complained the continued dominance of men who presided over the country's savage civil war is a serious obstacle to rebuilding the country.

Nader Nadery, who chairs the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, said the blatant political horse-trading was also alienating voters.

He said: "With these deals a lot of people have lost confidence in real participatory democracy.

Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies, said Mr Karzai had comprehensively out-manoeuvred his opponents in the August 20 presidential poll.

He said: "Elections in Afghanistan are not built on an agenda or a political position. People will decide based on an individual person and charisma. Mr Karzai thinks by bringing these big faces on board he will win votes."

A spokesman for Mr Karzai denied an electoral deal and said Gen Dostum had always been free to return.

Category: Warlords, Corruption - Views: 6477