Top Afghan official resigns

Interior minister had complained of corruption in government


KABUL, Afghanistan -- Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, one of the most respected members of President Hamid Karzai's Cabinet, resigned yesterday after complaining for months that some senior officials were involved in drugs and corruption.

Jalali announced his resignation in an interview with a private Afghan television station but was evasive about his reasons for stepping down.

"I will not work as Interior minister anymore," Jalali told Tolo TV. "One of the main reasons is that I wish to resume my academic research. I was involved in academia in the past, and I feel really comfortable in that field."

Jalali's spokesman said the former minister would explain his resignation today. Khaleeq Ahmad, a presidential spokesman, insisted there is no friction between Jalali and Karzai.

"This is something he's been wanting to do for a long time," Ahmad said. "He has announced it on TV and he's now sure that he wants to leave and pursue an academic career in Washington."

Jalali headed the effort to build a national police force, which is essential to expanding security to the large areas of the country that are still unstable.

He also vowed to go after corrupt officials and drug barons. But officers in the counter-narcotics police echoed Jalali's complaints that senior officials in Kabul, the capital, and the provinces profit from the heroin trade.

Because Jalali is one of a few skilled technocrats in a government hindered by former warlords, his departure is a blow to Karzai as he tries to build trustworthy institutions and end a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency.

Two members of the U.S. military were killed in attacks in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said yesterday. A U.S. soldier died under enemy fire during an assault west of Kandahar on Monday, while a U.S. Marine was killed the same day when insurgents fired mortar bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at a base near Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province.

At least 53 Americans have died in combat in Afghanistan this year, the deadliest for U.S. troops since the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001. About 1,200 Afghans, many of them members of the security forces and suspected guerrillas, have died in the insurgency this year.

Jalali is an Afghan-American and former head of the Voice of America's Pashtu- and Persian-language services. He graduated in 1964 from the U.S. Army Infantry Advance Course and was an adviser to Afghan rebels during the 1980s war against Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan, based in neighboring Pakistan.

He returned to Afghanistan from the United States to become Karzai's Interior minister in early 2003.

In February, Jalali said the Afghan government had a list of senior government officials who were involved in the multibillion-dollar heroin and opium trade. But he said the country's police force lacked the resources to gather evidence and prosecute them.

Jalali tried to resign the same month, but Karzai told him to stay in his post until after the Sept. 18 elections for Parliament, according to an Interior Ministry source who said he spoke yesterday with senior officials close to Jalali.

In conversations with his staff yesterday, Jalali mentioned several reasons for resigning, said the source, who spoke on condition that he not be named because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

The reasons included conflicts with officials in the presidential palace and Jalali's belief that the new Parliament, which must approve the Cabinet, would not accept him because he has dual citizenship, the source said.

Jalali also has complained about Karzai's appointment of former warlords and other corrupt officials to key posts in provincial administrations.

Paul Watson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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