Hamid Karzai risks his neck for royalist cause in Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai risks his neck for royalist cause in Afghanistan

By Fariba Nawa
November 2, 2001
Agence France Presse

Quetta, Pakistan — Hamid Karzai, now on the run from the Taliban, is the latest envoy to covertly penetrate Afghanistan in search of support for the country’s ousted monarch.

Like Abdul Haq, who was caught and executed by the Taliban last week, Karzai, 46, made his mark fighting the Soviet Union’s decade-long occupation of Afghanistan which ended in 1989, from a base in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

An ethnic Pashtun from the influential Durrani tribe, he returned to Kabul and rose to prominence in the early 1990s in the government that replaced the last communist regime.

The Durrani are the second largest tribe of the Pashtun who widely support the ousted king, Zahir Shah, who now lives in Rome.

The Ghilzai are the largest Pashtun tribe and form the backbone of the Taliban ranks, which opposes the king’s return.

The Islamic militia reportedly captured 25 of Karzai’s followers and fought off four US helicopters which came to rescue Karzai in Deharwad, Uruzgan province. Karzai apparently fled. As deputy foreign minister in the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, which replaced the Moscow-backed regime of Syed Najibullah in 1992, Karzai represented his tribes until the Taliban seized power in 1996.

He returned to Quetta where he continued to play an active role in Afghan politics. Haji Hayatullah, head of the Council for Understanding, a Pakistan-based group which tries to bring the warring Afghan factions together, said Karzai’s family and tribal connections date back to the late 1960s.

Karzai’s grandfather was Abdul Ahad Karzai, a former president of the national council under Zahir Shah before the monarch was ousted in 1973.

Abdul Ahad retired and the family moved to Quetta in 1983 during the Soviet occupation. His son, Karzai’s father, fought the Soviets following the December 1978 invasion.

“Their family is respected among their Durrani Pashtun tribe,” Hayatullah said.

“Karzai has been inside Afghanistan for 20 days and his mission was the same as Abdul Haq’s — to convince the Taliban in his tribal area in southern Afghanistan to support the king.” Former mujihadeen leader Abdul Haq was executed by the Taliban on October 26 after being caught while attempting to win the support of Pashtun tribes for an anti-Taliban uprising. The United States has admitted that it also tried to help Abdul Haq escape by providing air cover.

The killings were seen as a blow to attempts to split the Taliban and boost the campaign to capture alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

“Karzai has a lot of support among the Taliban there because he’s from their tribe,” said Hayatullah. “But we know that it’s not an Afghan government anymore.

“It’s an Arab government and Osama bin Laden rules Mullah Omar. The Arabs killed Abdul Haq and they will do the same to Karzai if he’s caught. But if his tribe stands up for him, he might be able to escape.”

Tribal elders from southern Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan have claimed that bin Laden — blamed for the September 11 destruction in New York and Washington — has usurped power from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Karzai, the middle son of seven brothers and one sister, is married but has no children. His father was murdered in Quetta in 1999, aged 75 while returning home from a mosque.

“For 22 years we wanted king Zahir Shah to come back,” Karzai’s younger brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, told AFP. “He was working for peace, he wants peace.”

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