Another Taliban Foe's Fate in Doubt
By JANE PERLEZ - NYT / October 28, 2001
QUETTA, Pakistan, Oct. 27 - After the execution of a prominent rebel commander in Afghanistan on Friday, anxiety increased today about the safety of another potential post-Taliban leader, who is believed to have traveled to Afghanistan to incite an uprising among his tribesmen.
Hamid Qarzai, who is favored by some Washington strategists as a best bet for leading an alliance of southern Afghans against the Taliban, was reported by his associates here today to be in the countryside around Kandahar, the Taliban capital and the home of his tribe. Quetta has been his base.
American diplomats and Pakistani officials said they understood Mr. Qarzai, who they described as the leader of a noble family that once ruled in what is now the Taliban heartland, had been inside southern Afghanistan for about a week.
But what he could actually accomplish toward the formation of a broad-based government - the announced political goal of the Bush Administration in Afghanistan - in the aftermath of the disastrous expedition of Mr. Haq was far from clear. The execution of Mr. Haq, who was thought by many Afghans to have had a strong American affiliation, served to undermine the confidence of the Afghan opposition, and it posed a significant setback to the American political goals for the nation.
Members of the opposition groups said here today that they see Washington as destroying their country with bombs but failing to make serious efforts to help it come out of the rubble.
For nearly three weeks, the Bush administration has said it was working on creating a post-Taliban government among the various Afghan opposition groups with the former king, Zahir Shah, as the rallying point.
But in the dominant Afghan ethnic group, the Pashtun, there has been increasing frustration at what they see as a tepid effort by Washington to push the process along. Both Mr. Haq and Mr. Qarzai were of Pashtun origin, but they belong to different clans within that ethnic group.
Pashtuns see the American bombing campaign as assisting the Northern Alliance, which they like to point out consists of smaller ethnic groups, chiefly the Uzbeks and the Tajiks. Mr. Haq went into Afghanistan with the knowledge of Washington but apparently with no meaningful American protection. American officials knew him well from his days as a commander supported by the United States in the Afghan resistance battle against the Soviet Union. But said one of these American officials: "he was popular among the Americans, but we never quite understood why he wasn't so popular among the Afghans."
Mr. Qarzai, who is more prominent among the Pashtun tribe than Mr. Haq, was described by Pashtun members today as having better cover from his clan - the Popalzai - than Mr. Haq had from his clan. But they said they had not heard from Mr. Qarzai since he went into the hinterland. Nor would they say how many men Mr. Qarzai had with him or what equipment.
Mr. Qarzai is also well known among the select group of Afghan hands in and around the Bush Administration. Last week, one of his American mentors said that Mr. Qarzai was so passionately anti-Taliban that it had been difficult to restrain him from going into Afghanistan in recent years.
The failure of the quixotic expedition by Mr. Haq was taken as a blow among Pashtun leaders who live in this border town, which is also the temporary home base of Mr. Qarzai and his extended family.
There was some criticism of Mr. Haq for venturing into Afghanistan with only a handful of men - maybe as few as 20 - against a well-armed and well-informed enemy. A senior Pashtun said this morning: "being an experienced commander, he should not have gone in like that. He should not have gone with an empty hand."
But more ominously, said this Pashtun, Mr. Haq's mission was most likely compromised by members of the Pakistani military intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence, who maintain direct contact with the Taliban.
The service helped create the Taliban movement and bring it to power in the mid-1990's, but since the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, announced his support for the United States after Sept. 11, the service is supposed to have gone along with the new policy.
Some Washington officials have expressed doubt that the critical middle levels of the service could switch allegiance so quickly, although at the same time the officials said they knew it would be difficult to create a post-Taliban government without the help of the Pakistani agents.
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