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Afghan Cabinet Seeks More Security

February 22, 2002

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Shaken by the slaying of their colleague, Afghan Cabinet members want international peacekeepers to provide them with extra protection as wobbly security continues to threaten Afghanistan’s recovery.

Safety concerns appear to be highest among the eight Pashtuns in the 30-member Cabinet. Pashtuns are members of the same ethnic group as the Taliban, while security jobs within the government are in the hands of ethnic Tajiks who fought against the Taliban.

``We are all concerned. We thought this kind of incident was over. We are more worried about security now,″ said Zalmay Rassoul, a Pashtun who replaced the slain Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Minister Abdul Rahman after he was killed Feb. 14 at Kabul airport.

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has implicated senior members of the interim administration in Rahman’s death and ordered an investigation.

The details surrounding Rahman’s killing are awash in confusion: Some blame enraged Hajj pilgrims who had waited two days in the bitter cold for a flight to Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia.

Others say it was an old feud that coincidentally involved senior members of the administration. The three men being sought in the case are Gen. Abdullah Tawhidi, deputy intelligence chief, Gen. Kolander Beg, of the defense ministry and Halim, a justice ministry official who uses only one name.

With so much uncertainty surrounding Rahman’s killing, some Cabinet ministers sought greater protection from the British-led international peacekeeping force.

``Clearly this has had an impact on some of the administration. They have asked ISAF to review the security of where they work and where they live,″ said Lt. Col Neil Peckman, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul.

Some changes have been made, he said, but refused to elaborate citing security concerns.

The U.N.-brokered agreement that cobbled together the interim Afghan administration last December gave the international peacekeepers the job of protecting the new leadership _ which also includes a collection of exiled Afghans and members of the northern alliance, who fought the Taliban regime for five years.

However, the fact that a Cabinet minister was killed in broad daylight at the country’s main airport has raised questions about the effectiveness of the peacekeepers’ mandate.

Afghanistan’s interior and defense ministries are primarily responsible for security for the Kabul airport and other civilian sites, Peckman said

``We didn’t even know about the event until after it happened,″ Peckman acknowledged. ``Our job is to assist, and if we had known it was happening, we would have assisted.″

Some former exiles, mostly ethnic Pashtuns, say they fear their safety is not a priority with either the defense or interior ministries, both run by men belonging to the northern alliance made up primarily of Tajiks and Uzbeks.

``We rely on the defense and interior ministries for our protection. We do not come here with the protection of our tribe. I could bring 100,000 armed men to Kabul but then we would be back to where we were before,″ said one Cabinet minister who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He was referring to the bloody factional fighting that ravaged Kabul between 1992 and 1996 when an estimated 50,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed.

``We are in the same government, sitting in the same boat. They should take security measures for all of us and not just for themselves,″ the minister said.

Rahman’s death was among subjects discussed Friday during a meeting between Karzai and U.S. envoy Zalamay Khalilzad, according to Kabul television. That indicated the concerns which the United States and its coalition partners have over security here.

Rahman’s death has also raised concern about the return of the exiled monarch, Mohammad Zaher Shah. Rahman was loyal to Zaher Shah, who is expected to return in March for the first time since his ouster in 1973.

Two months later, in June, the interim administration must convene a grand council, or loya jirga, to choose the next government to rule this war-battled nation.

Rassoul said security is going to have to improve dramatically to be certain Afghans living outside their homeland return to participate in the council.

``We need to concentrate much more on the security issue and with the coming of the loya jirga council it is an even a more important issue,″ he said.

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