Qayum Karzai got the latest telephone dispatch yesterday afternoon in Baltimore: His brother, Hamid Karzai, had fought off a Taliban attack in Afghanistan and taken up a position in Uruzgon, a province north of Kandahar. He was safe.
Hamid Karzai, a deputy foreign minister in the pre-Taliban government, left his home in Pakistan a month ago to rally fellow Pashtun tribesman against the fundamentalist regime, said Qayum Karzai, who owns the Helmand Restaurant in Baltimore.
"He was attacked Thursday by a group of Taliban, Pakistani extremists and al-Qaida," Qayum Karzai said. "There was fighting all day. We pulled out because we didn't want the villagers in the area to be hurt."
The Taliban, according to some reports, said they had killed 25 people and were going to arrest Hamid Karzai.
"That's all Taliban propaganda," Qayum Karzai said. "He's safe."
Hamid Karzai had gone to Afghanistan to encourage support for a post-Taliban government that would include the deposed king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who lives in exile in Rome.
"He spent the first four nights in our village within four miles of Kandahar," Qayum Karzai said of his brother. "He found a great deal of enthusiasm. People are ready to mobilize against the Taliban."
Though Kandahar is the Taliban stronghold, and home of its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Karzai are leaders of a powerful Pashtun tribe there, the Populzai. His tribal leadership means Hamid Karzai can move about with relative ease, protected by fellow tribesmen, his brother said.
The Taliban, he said, have apparently decided against pursuing the Karzai detachment because they don't won't to provoke tribal groups in the region to come to Hamid Karzai's defense. Hamid Karzai inherited his position as head of the Pashtun Populzai tribe in 1999 when his father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, was assassinated as he left a mosque in Quetta, Pakistan.
Hamid Karzai wields great influence in southern Afghanistan, as well as in Washington, where he is regarded as a better strategist than Abdul Haq, an anti-Taliban leader captured and executed by the Taliban last week a few days after he entered Afghanistan.
Qayum Karzai said his family has opposed the Taliban since 1995 - when the United States was supporting the faction. The family comes from the village of Karz - their name means "from Karz." Once, the village had 500 families. Now, most inhabitants have fled, and the buildings are in ruins, he said. He was encouraged, he said, that the Taliban was not pursuing his brother.
"As you know, until now they have acted out of madness," he said. "But now they are pulling back. They must see something. They are not acting out of madness, and that is a good sign."
Hamid Karzai, 46, was reportedly with a group of 100 fighters. He was holding a meeting of tribal leaders when he was attacked.
Qari Fazil Rabi, a Taliban Information Ministry official, told reporters in Afghanistan that U.S. helicopters fired on the Taliban as they attacked Karzai. Qayum Karzai said that was untrue.
"They are trying to make it look as if he is controlled by the United States," he said, "and he is not."
Qayum Karzai was last in Afghanistan in 1999 for his father's funeral. From here, he follows events there daily, either talking to his brother, Hamid, by satellite phone or to another brother, Ahmed, in Quetta, Pakistan. It has been a difficult time, he said yesterday.
"I get motion sickness," he said, "and for the last two days I've been on an emotional roller coaster."