In memory of Afghanistan’s Vice President Fahim

I remember how helicopters roamed over his house in Kabul and how the neighborhood was under strict military surveillance out of fear he may stage a coup

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

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Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim recently died of natural causes in the Kabul. Fahim has spent his life fighting as he resisted the Soviet occupation since his early days then he got engaged in the Afghan civil war and finally fought the Taliban. Fahim died three weeks before the presidential elections in Afghanistan where his influence and support would have provided good momentum for the Tajik minority and for prominent candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

Considering his post as vice president, Marshal Fahim was an influential player within decision-making circles. He was also the most influential leader among former jihadists.

Marshal Fahim became leader of the northern alliance after its leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, aka the “Lion of Panjshir,” was assassinated in September 2001 – a few days before the 9/11 twin attacks.

But the circumstances suddenly changed as American troops entered Afghanistan, toppling Taliban governance, allies of al-Qaeda. The northern alliance found its chance to contribute to establishing a new leadership through the Bonn Conference and through the interim administration of President Hamid Karzai.

I remember how helicopters roamed over his house in Kabul and how the neighborhood was under strict military surveillance out of fear he may stage a coup

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

That interim government remained in power for 12 years but Fahim did not live to see the day in which a new president takes over Afghanistan's leadership particularly during the current critical phase. It's a critical phase in the country's history because American troops are set to leave the country by the end of 2014. The expected security agreement with the U.S. has also not yet been signed.

Fahim, who did not hesitate to announce his support of Abdullah Abdullah's candidacy, knew beforehand that elections will be hard in a country where corruption and forgery reign. His death will certainly affect Abdullah's campaign but I don't think Fahim's death will necessarily have negative repercussions on it.

Fahim died of natural causes. Despite that, his death reminds me of the circumstances of the absence of Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated prior to the Pakistani elections. Her painful death gained her family popular support that led to an increased participation in the elections and thus contributed to electing her husband Asif Zardari as president. What's well-known is that Zardari was not considered a political figure or rather he did not even enjoy any popularity worth mentioning, but voters' sympathy and sadness over Bhutto's death supported his campaign and he won the elections.

Fahim's lingering absence

What I want to say here is that Fahim's death occurred at a very critical time. Since he was politically influential, his absence, a while before the presidential elections, may have an influence similar to that Bhutto's absence had on her husband's presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, people are very disappointed by the performance of Karzai's government. The people are really angry over Karzai's record during his 12-years reign as president. Today, and 12 years after a war against terrorism and scandals linked to international aid, the people only see more violence, corruption and poverty.

Afghans are very upset by the current situation and they are looking for an alternative, that is if free and fair elections are held without any of Karzai's men tampering with them. Therefore, if the emotional factor resulting from Fahim's death performs its role and if the mujihadeen manage to organize their ranks behind Abdullah, the latter's chance at winning will increase.

Meanwhile, Karzai must find a candidate to replace Fahim as vice president. The candidate must be from the Tajik minority but most Tajik leaders currently stand with Abdullah.

Over the course of five years, between 2004 and 2009, Fahim did not practice any real official role but he preferred to stay at home. When Karzai was first elected, he soon gave up Fahim. During the presence of the interim government, Fahim was minister of defense in addition to being vice president. Karzai had granted him the marshal title as an appreciation of his bravery and services to the country.

I remember those tense days after the 2004 elections after observers wondered on how Fahim will react to the president giving up on him.

I remember how helicopters roamed over his house in Kabul and how the neighborhood was under strict military surveillance out of fear he may stage a coup against Karzai and his government.

I visited him at his house few months later. He was relaxed and he was taking care of his garden. When I arrived, he warmly welcomed me and invited me to walk with him to see the flowers in the garden.

When I cautiously asked him about those tense days and about statements alleging he sought to lead a coup and why he didn’t, he smiled and said: "Journalists like to write stories and foreigners don't know me. I am not a person who destroys what he builds or sponsors. I don't pick flowers of those which I plant. Do you destroy a garden you took care of just because you are angry? No, I don't do that. My people need peace and stability. If the issue is just about me, I would only prefer to look after my garden for the rest of my life."

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 14, 2014.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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