Global Politics

Afghan vice president's death leaves a political void, right before new elections

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Credit:

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

An Afghan man holds a picture of Afghan Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim during his burial ceremony in Kabul on March 11, 2014.

Afghans mourned the loss of Vice President Marshal Qasim Fahim on Tuesday.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Fahim's funeral, broadcast on Afghan state television, showed thousands of people paying their respects on a hilltop overlooking Kabul, where the political leader was laid to rest.

Mariam Aman of BBC Persian says Fahim's funeral was a reflection of his power. "Thousands of people crowded on to Kabul's hilltop to pay their last respects, some calling out 'God is great', and 'Fahim we will remember you and follow your path.' It was an emotional outpouring for people who came to Kabul despite the fact that it's winter and we had snow last night. But that did not deter his fans and supporters."

Fahim, who died on Sunday at 57, was an ethnic Tajik. He was in office for 13 years and before that was a deputy to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance commander who was killed in an al-Qaeda suicide bombing just days before the Sept. 11 attacks.  

When Massoud died, Aman says, Fahim became the key player in the Afghan political system.

"From jirgas (tribal assemblies) to conferences, to political appointments, to relationships with the west or in the region, anything, you name it, Fahim played a key role in everything," Aman says.

Fahim, like Massound, was a controversial figure whose years of battling militants led to accusations that he had blood on his hands.

"From the early 1990s until the Taliban took over Kabul and most parts of Afghanistan," says Aman, "Fahim played a key role and was the head of the National Directorate of Security. But whether he had a direct hand in blood, or whether he killed people, that hasn't been proven. Although there have always been allegations."

Still, Fahim was widely considered somebody who could mediate between factions.

"Although Afghanistan has its own national army and police, there are traditional loyalties still in place," Aman says. "Fahim had considerable influence over those forces. He played a mediator role for both the government and for those forces who were now political opposition — not armed opposition — who once were part of resistance forces against the Taliban. So right now, his absence in the government leaves a huge vacuum." 

His death comes less than a month before elections to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who is barred from seeking a third term. Fahim's absence could be significant problem. "if the level of fraud is extensive and people contest this election, then there is no such force who can lobby between the sides to bring a peaceful result to election," Aman adds.

"There are forces now thinking that we should replace Fahim with somebody who might be able to tame the situation and manage it and bring a peaceful result."

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