Through their words and deeds, Afghan brothers take on Taliban

Baltimore restaurateur testifies in Washington

sibling rallies tribesmen

War On Terrorism : The World

November 07, 2001|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Nearly 7,000 miles separate two brothers, but their battle plans are focused on a common mission: to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban. The elder brother is fighting to sway opinions in Washington while the younger is trying to make his case among Pashtun tribesmen in southern Afghanistan.

Their last name - Karzai - may prove influential in both places, which is why the Taliban would apparently like to see the younger brother dead before he creates too much trouble. They have reportedly come close to killing him.

"I worry, of course," said Qayum Karzai, 53, owner of the Helmand restaurant in Baltimore. He is scheduled to testify today before the House Foreign Relations Committee in Washington to argue that any post-Taliban government in Afghanistan be made up of of moderates. "I worry not so much for me," he said yesterday. "I worry far more for my brother."

That would be Hamed Karzai, 46, who has sought to enlist tribal leaders to rise up and topple the Taliban, to spare their country the wrath of the United States and its allies.

The only measure so far of his success is that he has survived. Another opposition figure, Abdul Haq, a former guerrilla fighter who had boasted that the Taliban were on the brink of collapse, entered Afghanistan last month and was quickly captured and executed.

"It is a lot to ask of my brother, to take on this challenge," Qayum Karzai said. "We fear for him, but we know why he puts his life on the line. It is for the people of Afghanistan."

War, politics and propaganda are difficult to separate, and the truth surrounding Hamed Karzai's past few days is unclear. According to the Taliban, he was surrounded and nearly killed along with a dozen supporters last week and is now being chased through the mountains of southern Afghanistan.

According to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. forces plucked him out of southern Afghanistan on Sunday and dropped him in Pakistan for "consultations." Hamed Karzai was likely to return to his home country soon, Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday.

According to the Karzai family in Pakistan and Maryland, the truth is somewhere in the middle of those accounts.

"There was fighting, yes, but he's safe and the worst is over," said Pat Karzai, Qayum's wife. "He escaped somewhere in the mountains, but there were no helicopters getting him."

She said that she talked to her brother-in-law by satellite telephone just after her lunch yesterday and that he was somewhere north of Kandahar and south of Kabul - and certainly not in Pakistan.

"It's been three days of fighting, walking and living on green tea and bread," she said.

The brothers pronounce their names as "Ky-OOM" and "HA-mid." Their father was Abdul Ahad Karzai - KAR-zay - the influential leader of a Pashtun tribe called the Populzai. An advocate for moderation and unity in Afghanistan, he was assassinated in 1999 outside a mosque in Quetta, Pakistan. The Taliban are suspected in the death.

The family maintains ties with Afghanistan's former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who was deposed in 1973 and now lives, at age 86, in Rome.

The Karzai brothers have struck the tone their father once did in their talks about the future of Afghanistan. They want a country based on three pillars: a moderate Islam, a nationalism that promotes coexistence, and maintenance of the tribal-social structure.

That is what Qayum Karzai will tell the congressional committee today, he said.

"We have been talking this way for years, long before September 11th," he said. "We said the trouble in Afghanistan would necessarily become the trouble of every country in the world. It is the nature of terrorism, the nature of the ideology, that it cannot contain itself."

The committee may find the words familiar. In July 2000, Qayum's brother also addressed Congress.

"I believe that Afghanistan under the prevailing circumstances is dangerous to itself," Hamed Karzai testified, as if predicting the future, "dangerous to the stability of the region and dangerous to the accepted international norms and behavior."

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