Karzai Ceremony Collapses

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by Rod Nordland

New York Times

September 9, 2014

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday pleaded for national unity and a speedy settlement to Afghanistan’s political crisis, but the event at which he spoke was marred by hooting and catcalls that brought it to an early end.

During a commemoration ceremony for Afghanistan’s most revered resistance fighter, Mr. Karzai encouraged the two candidates in the disputed presidential election to quickly make a deal and form a government in the interest of national unity, something that he said could be accomplished in a week.

Shortly after Mr. Karzai spoke, however, supporters of one candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, booed other speakers off the podium, ignoring Mr. Abdullah’s efforts to restore calm. Mr. Karzai left early, as did Ashraf Ghani, the other candidate, and an event meant to serve as a symbol of national unity ended by sending the opposite message.

On Monday, Mr. Abdullah announced that he would not accept the results of a United Nations-sponsored audit of the presidential election and said that talks with Mr. Ghani on forming a national unity government were deadlocked.

The resistance fighter who was commemorated on Tuesday, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was the leader of the Northern Alliance when he was assassinated by Al Qaeda 13 years ago, two days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Abdullah was one of his aides, and Mr. Abdullah’s strongest supporters are among former Northern Alliance members, especially those from the Panjshir Valley, where Mr. Massoud was from.

“Our government is over and we want the new government,” Mr. Karzai said during his speech. “The new government can be created for us with the help of Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani. Unity between these two could succeed, and if it happened today, that could be an everlasting benefit to the country.”

“God willing, we will have the new government in the coming week” if the two candidates can make a deal, Mr. Karzai said in his speech. He urged the crowd to “call on them to reach a result, call on them quickly and loudly.”

Instead, when a widely respected elder named Sibghatullah Mujadeddi took the podium, the crowd — dominated by men from the Panjshir Valley — erupted in shouting and booing, apparently angered by Mr. Mujadeddi’s high-profile support for Mr. Ghani during the presidential campaign. Mr. Abdullah tried unsuccessfully to quiet them, and the government-run Radio Television Afghanistan, which was broadcasting the event nationally, cut off the sound for several minutes.

Even Mr. Massoud’s brother, Ahmed Wali Massoud, an Abdullah supporter, was unable to quiet the crowd, which he scolded for showing disrespect to Mr. Mujadeddi. The event was finally canceled altogether.

The rugged Panjshir Valley was a stronghold of resistance against both the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Taliban advance. But many Afghans resent the Panjshiris’ influence in the modern Afghan government, particularly in security and intelligence roles.

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