The Three Tajiketeers

Publisher and Managing Editor IKRAM SEHGAL wrote this article for THE NATION which we are re-producing with thanks.

While the Taliban Regime was decidedly Pashtun-heavy, the new interim government installed in Kabul on Dec 22 has swung to other extreme, weighted so blatantly in favour of the Punjsheeri Tajiks, it calls into question the credibility of UN as a fair adjudicator. This distorted parity does not augur well for the peace process, it is a sure recipe for continuance of chaos and confusion.

Afghanistan has thirty two provinces with one, Nuristan, in name only. There are 315 Iluswall’s and Alaqadars (Districts). Pashtuns are a majority 55% while Tajik make up about 20-25%, Uzbek 10-15% and Shia Wahdat (Hazara) about 8-10%. Less than 5% are other races, eg. Turkmen, etc. Instead of one (and at maximum two) ministerial slots for Punjsheeri Tajiks on basis of proportional representation, on the strength of Kabul’s occupation they have blackmailed their way to three of the most important portfolios, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Interior, the only Ministries required for total control over governance in third world countries. The Punjsheeri Tajiks rule the capital by default, they walked in without a fight because a combination of US precision and carpet bombing pulverized the Taliban. Besides being Pashtun and pro-king, Hamid Karzai is the hand-picked nominee of Zalmay Khalilzada, an important member of Bush’s National Security Council, who had invited Karzai to address Rand Corporation when he was with the “think tank”. Finally, being relatively a political and military lightweight cleared the way for Karzai’s appointment as Head of the Interim Government. Emerging from Masood’s shadow, three Punjsheeris, claimed centre stage as his natural political heirs, Gen Fahim, Qanooni and Abdullah Abdullah. All three hail from villages within half an hour’s drive of Rokha, Fahim from village Omarz (15-18 kms from Rokha), Qanooni from Rokha itself and Abdullah’s mother from Barazak, only 6 kms from Rokha. Punjsheeris constitute only 3% of the Afghan population, yet very little is known about the three who now control the destiny of Afghanistan. Would the US public accept Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of the Justice Department Ashcroft if the three were to hail from Austin or within 20 miles of Austin, Texas as a fair distribution of power? The three musketeers can run Hamid Karzai out of town as callously as they dumped their nominal leader and fellow Tajik, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The inauguration was dominated by huge posters and loud slogans glorifying Tajik leader late Ahmed Shah Masood, conveniently overlooking the fact that he was the force behind the gross misrule from 1992-96 creation of that led to the Taliban in the first place. However, the memory of the US bombing of the Taliban will serve for Afghans to keep their faith.

Powerful warlords, Uzbek Rashid Dostum and Tajik Ismail Khan, control the extremely important gateways of Mazar-i-Sharif (for Uzbekistan) and Herat (for Iran), they went public in announcing their reservations and resentment, accepting the fait accompli grudgingly and reserving the right to demand adjustments, “keeping the unity” by turning up for the inauguration. Earlier Gen Fahim’s Tajik troops had to drive out Shia Wahdat’s Jafiri who had seized Pol-i-Khomri briefly, reportedly with moral support from Dostum. Hamid Karzai bought temporary peace by naming Dostum Deputy Defence Minister, this only confirms that the future Armed Forces will be dominated by Tajiks and Uzbeks, will this make the Pashtuns happy? Even former President Burhanuddin Rabbani expressed public disquiet about the Bonn agreement, though the wily fox had the grace to go peacefully and live to fight another day. Given his contacts with Dostum and Ismail Khan, that may not be long in  coming.

Russia ended the Khanate rule in Central Asia, their ruthless governance saw large segments of Muslim population forced south of the Amu Darya (Amu River dividing Afghanistan from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) and settle in Afghanistan, most Tajiks settling in Punjsheer Valley, Kapisa, Takhar, Badakshan, Balkh, Parwan and Kabul, Punjsheer Valley Tajiks calling themselves Punjsheeris to differentiate themselves from others. Masood’s elders had migrated from Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Rabbani’s father was a cleric from Dushanbe in Tajikistan. Both are referred to in Afghanistan as Par Darya (from across Amu Darya). These mountain people along with the Hazaras make up most of Kabul’s population and do all the menial work like load carriers, sweepers, cheap labour, etc, social progression being a very rare option. That the Kabul population is vocally opposed to the Pashtuns (and Pakistan by default) is not surprising.

Born in 1955 Gen Fahim, alias Moulvi Muhammad Qasim, the Defence Minister, the son of Abdul Mateen Deobandi, completed his religious education in 1977 at the Madrassah Imam Abu Hanifa Darul Alvan Arabi and also speaks Arabic. He came to Peshawar in 1978, but fought briefly along with Moulvi Jamilur Rehman in Kunar before shifting to Punjsheer to join Masood under the banner of Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Jamaat-e-Islami. He fought against the Soviets in Gulbahar, Salang, Baghlan, Konduz and Takhar Provinces. When Masood installed Sibghatullah Mujaddedi temporarily as Interim President in 1992 before securing the Presidency for Rabbani, Fahim was appointed head of the Afghan Intelligence Agency Khad. His three brothers are all settled in Dubai, his two wives are now shifting house from Meshed to Punjsheer valley. As Khad chief, Fahim was very brutal and ruthless. He loves horses and enjoys good living, spending very lavishly. While Masood was alive, he remained unknown to the media. He is not close either to Qanooni and Abdullah but is clubbed with them because of his/their association with Masood.

Younis Qanooni’s father, Mullah Muhammed Yousuf, was a teacher in Madrassah Abu Hanifa in Bagram. Born in 1959, Qanooni, who also speaks Arabic, joined the Faculty of Shariat Law in Kabul University but left in his Fourth Year and came to Peshawar for two years before joining Ahmed Shah Masood around 1985. He did military service during Najibullah’s regime. His family lives in India, his wife is a Pashtun from Kama, Nangarhar Province, the niece of a supporter of King Zahir Shah, Uzbek Dr Seerat. Qanooni walks with a stick because his leg was injured in a car bomb explosion in 1994 for which he blames Gulbadin Hikmatyar, this may have been because of internal Punjsheeri feuding. As Masood’s political advisor he was the representative of the Shoora Nazar in Peshawar, off and on from 1984 to 1992. Haughty and arrogant, Qanooni is an outspoken critic of Pakistan for what he calls Pakistan’s pro-Pashtun policy.

The third musketeer, Abdullah Abdullah, was born in Kabul of a Pashtun father, Mr Mohyuddin from Kandahar. Abdullah, whose family lives presently in the US, only did one year in 1984 in Kabul University as a medical student and left to join Masood in 1985 at the suggestion of his elder brother, Amaruddin, who served Najibullah rising to the rank of General. From 1985 to 1987 he lived in Peshawar. He then visited Pakistan in 1992 with Engineer Arif, a senior member of Khad. During Ms Benazir’s second tenure as PM, he visited Pakistan in 1994 as a member of President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s delegation. A member of Masood’s inner circle, he was trusted far more than Younus Qanooni and Dr Abdur Rehman, from whom Masood distanced himself for some time. Reportedly an atheist, Abdullah Abdullah has lived since 1996 in the US, UK and India, and speaks Pashto, Persian and English. Beginning his career as Masood’s Secretary, Abdullah became his spokesman and then Deputy Foreign Minister. Receiving funds from Russia, Iran and India, Abdullah Abdullah’s anti-Pakistan stance is understandable.

Abdullah Abdullah’s father being Pashtun, he is not taken as a Punjsheeri by the other two. Since Fahim and Qanooni are from the same Illuswal, ultimately only one can represent the District. Their differences came to a head after the death of Masood, whose brother Wali supported Abdullah against Qanooni while Rabbani and the Punjsheeri veteran commanders supported Fahim. Even after the formation of the Interim Government, residual differences remain.

Bonn took into consideration the interests of most of Afghanistan’s neighbours but by minimizing of the interests of the Pashtun majority, gives only lip service to Pakistan’s concerns. Some Pashtuns have deep loyalties to King Zahir Shah, himself from the Populzai tribe, the same as Hamid Karzai. The political patchwork does not truly reflect the wishes of the majority, the presence of the King’s men being simply window dressing Pashtuns. Late Abdul Haq’s strong personality would have been anathema to the three musketeers. Out of 31 Provinces, the eastern 17 always look to Pakistan for their long-term existence and even the others invariably look to Pakistan. We should play it cool, the forces of affinity and time do not need prompting to go their natural urges. For their survival, Afghanistan needs Pakistan, and whatever the three musketeers do, all the west’s forces will not be able to keep them riding herd in Kabul long. The occupation of Kabul does not Afghanistan make. This is not a prediction, it is a rendition of facts as they were, are and will be!