Thursday, April 5, 2007

Friends and foes form front to curb Karzai's powers

By Sayed Salahuddin Wed Apr 4, 9:44 AM ET

Key members of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government have joined forces with some of his arch rivals to form a party that aims to curb his powers.

Launched on Tuesday, the National Front is largely made up of veterans of the mujahideen resistance war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The party wants to change the constitution so that a prime minister is appointed to share control with the president over government affairs and oversee elections for governors and mayors.

"We do not want presidential system," said Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, a parliamentarian, and spokesman for the National Front.

"We want the role of a prime minister in order to improve democracy in our society," he said.

Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led a mujahideen government that collapsed in civil war during the early 1990s, is the leader of the party.

The former president, a soft spoken, turbanned Islamic scholar, was a leader of a key faction within the Northern Alliance that helped U.S.-led troops overthrow the Taliban in late 2001, and is now a member of Afghanistan's lower house.

National Front members talk of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban, stamping out corruption and weaning Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of heroin, off the narcotics trade.


Disenchantment with Karzai is running high, but many ordinary Afghans will hardly be filled with confidence at the sight of so many former factional commanders banding together in a common front, analysts say, as several of them are regarded as being as responsible as the Taliban for Afghanistan's current woes.

Members of the National Front include first Vice President Ahmad Zia Masood, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Karzai's adviser on security affairs, and the head of the lower of house of parliament, Yunus Qanuni, along with several former and current members of Karzai's cabinet.

At least two top former communist generals who are now members of parliament, and Mustafa Zahir, a grandson of Afghanistan's ailing former king, are also members of the party.

After being installed as president and backed by the West after the overthrow of the Taliban, Karzai was elected in 2004 to serve as president for another five years in an election regarded as triumph for democracy after nearly a quarter century of chaos and violence.

As the president and commander in-chief of the armed forces, Karzai chooses his cabinet, although ministers have to be endorsed by parliament. He also has the power to appoint or replace governors and mayors under a constitution drawn up by a grand assembly in 2002.

One National Front member said the party would call for another loya jirga, Afghanistan's traditional grand assembly of tribal chieftains and elders, to amend the constitution.

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