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Crossing Continents Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 14:21 GMT
Afghan warlords threaten stability
Martyred warlords
Afghan carpet weavers honour their martyred warlords
Tim Whewell

A year after the fall of Kabul, feuding warlords are again exerting their power, undermining the authority of Hamid Karzai's government. Tim Whewell assesses everyday realities within a fragile peace.

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BBC Radio 4: Crossing Continents in Afghanistan

The Pakistani city of Peshawar has long been a hotbed of intrigue.

In the nineteenth century it was a base for British adventurers scheming to increase colonial influence in Afghanistan, which lies just across the Khyber Pass.

In the late twentieth century, Afghan warlords gathered in the city to plot their resistance to the Russians, to the Taliban, and to each other.

Today, you might think, Peshawar would have lost its role as a stage for cloak-and-dagger games.

Haji Zaman
Haji Zaman - the power scheming has never really gone away
After 23 years of war, Afghanistan is at last experiencing peace, albeit frail, with a Western-backed, power-sharing government.

Warlords' plans

I was driven to a secret address on the outskirts of Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province.

I arrived at a well-guarded villa that is a temporary refuge to a warlord forced out of Afghanistan in the last few months.

In his rimless glasses, Haji Zaman cuts an urbane figure. But this belies his violent past.

He has been accused of ordering savage reprisals during the Afghan civil war in the early 1990s.

When the Taliban regime fell, Haji Zaman carved up power in the eastern city of Jalalabad with two other powerful warlords.

Last spring, his rivals forced him out.

"One day, I found my house surrounded by troops, so I readily accepted the offer of safe passage out of the country in a fleet of Datsuns," he said.

Private armies hold power

Kabul River valley
The warlords hold real power in the country
Now, Haji Zaman is in Peshawar, scheming to re-establish his authority.

This is just one sign of how the men who wrecked Afghanistan a few years ago are up to their old tricks again.

In theory, the country is on its way to becoming a democracy.

A grand council of elected elders - a loya jirga - met back in the summer to appoint a president - Hamid Karzai - and approve a government.

It will meet again - probably in 2004 - to agree a constitution and pave the way for parliamentary elections.

In the meantime, the cabinet includes members of all the country's main ethnic groups. But its writ doesn't run far beyond the capital, Kabul.

In Jalalabad, power is now shared uneasily between two "commanders" - Haji Zaher and Hazrat Ali. Both have private armies numbering several thousand.

War damage
War damage runs deeper than just structural

For now, they are on their best behaviour - at least while their American paymasters are still in the country.

Both Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaher received substantial sums for their help against al-Qaeda.

Haji Zaher says he would give up his military command if his troops were integrated into a new Afghan national army.

Local uncertainty

But many people in Jalalabad remain unconvinced.

The brooding presence of the warlords is now their greatest source of anxiety.

With such men in power, there is little hope for an Afghanistan where promotion depends on talent and education.

"Education's not the most important thing," the Jalalabad police chief told me.

"What matters is how well you've served your country."

He is one of many men who have spent long, hard years battling in the mountains.

Now they want the fruits of victory.

But they may not be the right men to build a new nation.

Crossing Continents: Afghan warlords threaten stability
was broadcast on Thursday, 2 January, 2003 on BBC Radio 4 at 1100 GMT
and was repeated on Monday, 6 January, 2003 on BBC Radio 4 at 2030 GMT
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