An Afghan vice president assassinated by gunmen

Qadir one of few Pashtuns to join new government


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A senior member of Afghanistan's government was assassinated by gunmen lurking outside his office in Kabul yesterday, prompting confusion in the capital and marking the latest political attack on the U.S.-backed government.

The official, Haji Abdul Qadir, a vice president and one of the few ethnic Pashtuns to join the newly installed government of President Hamid Karzai, was shot in the head when a pair of gunmen sprayed his car with assault rifles as it left his ministry. Qadir's driver, who crashed the car after being struck by a bullet, was also killed. The gunmen, who witnesses said had been hiding in the bushes, escaped, authorities said.

The Kabul police, suspecting a conspiracy, immediately arrested Qadir's entourage of bodyguards and sealed off Kabul's main streets.

Hours after the attack, reporters gathering around Qadir's bullet-riddled car saw blood splattered across its interior and a set of Qadir's prayer beads still dangling from the dashboard. The police said they had counted 36 bullets.

The circumstances surrounding Qadir's murder were not clear, though his death immediately threw into question the stability of Karzai's government.

In Maine, President Bush condemned the killing and said, "We'll find out what the facts are and then address it."

In Washington, the State Department said the killing "should not be allowed to divert the government and people of Afghanistan from the path of reconstruction and progress."

The killing came in a week when a U.S. bombing raid killed civilians in a southern village.

Qadir, a longtime warlord from eastern Afghanistan, had fought with the Northern Alliance, the rebel group that toppled the Taliban and whose leaders dominate the current government.

His brother, Abdul Haq, was killed by the Taliban last year after he entered Afghanistan during the U.S. bombardment to try to inspire a rebellion.

During Afghanistan's long civil war, Qadir maintained complicated relationships with most of the country's dominant groups, including the leaders of the Northern Alliance, the warlords of eastern Afghanistan and the Taliban. As a public man in a dangerous land, Qadir had many enemies, and it was unclear which of them had decided to kill him.

The attack marks a sharp blow to Karzai's fledging transitional government, which took office last month amid criticism that it had largely excluded Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group, to which Qadir belonged. The government formed by Karzai, himself a Pashtun, is dominated by Tajiks, and its ethnic makeup has spurred resentment from Pashtun groups around the country.

A tall and imposing man with a neatly trimmed white beard, Qadir stood as a symbol for the broad-based government that Karzai said he was trying to create. Last month, Karzai, who had named Qadir governor of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, persuaded Qadir to go to Kabul and join his government, and this was seen as a successful move in the attempt to bring the warlords of eastern Afghanistan under the control of the central government.

After Qadir's assassination, Karzai rushed to the hospital where Qadir's body lay, and then disappeared inside. Aides said he had called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet, of which Qadir had been a member. Qadir's brother, Nasarullah Baryalai, told the Associated Press that Karzai had vowed to hunt down the vice president's killers.

"He has assured us of a thorough investigation," Baryalai said.

Qadir's assassination marked the latest act of violence directed at a senior leader of one of Afghanistan's post-Taliban governments. In February, Abdul Rahman, the minister for aviation and tourism in the country's interim government, was beaten to death by a mob at the Kabul airport in an attack that many said was politically motivated. The murder has not been solved.

In April, unknown assassins exploded a bomb near a car carrying Gen. Muhammad Fahim, the defense minister in the interim government. The bomb missed its target. At the time, Fahim was visiting Jalalabad, where he was scheduled to meet with its governor, Qadir.

Qadir's killing, in broad daylight in the heart of the country's capital, shattered the calm and buoyancy that have pervaded Kabul for much of the eight months since the Taliban fled the capital. The city is patrolled around the clock by a multinational security force, and though it has seized caches of weapons and brought order to Kabul, it showed itself powerless yesterday to prevent an assassination of one of the country's three vice presidents.

"This is a terrorist attack," said Omar Samad, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. "But it won't stop us from making this country a safer place. The killers have to be found."

As one of the most powerful men in the rough-and-tumble political world of eastern Afghanistan, Qadir broke and maintained an array of alliances over the years, any one of which might have come back to haunt him yesterday.

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