Friday, July 15, 2011

Afghan leaders fear they're next on hit list

KABUL: Among those offering eulogies for Mr Ahmed Wali Karzai, the assassinated brother of the President, Ms Fauzia Kofi kept her condolences brief, preoccupied by a thought that had kept her awake the previous night.

'If they can kill Ahmed Wali, then they can kill any of us,' said Ms Kofi, a member of Afghanistan's Parliament who was warned last month that she was on a list of Taleban targets.

Underscoring the fragile situation, a suicide attacker yesterday killed a senior cleric and at least three other people at a funeral service for Mr Karzai.

At least 15 people were also wounded in the midday attack at the city's Red Mosque, the Interior Ministry said.

Meanwhile, Ms Kofi has rearranged her security detail, replacing several bo-dyguards - out of a crew of 10 - whom she considered questionable. 'The longer they're here,' she said, 'the more time the Taleban has to recruit them.'

Afghan political, military and business leaders, tasked with establishing a stable democracy, are facing more immediate personal safety concerns after a string of attacks on top officials.

Afghanistan has long been a land of shifting alliances and uncertain loyalties, but increasingly, members of the ruling class are being forced to look for possible infiltrators in their inner circles.

People killed in the past several months in attacks for which the Taleban has taken credit include General Mohammad Daud Daud, northern Afghanistan's top police commander; Gen Khan Mohammad Mujahid, the police chief of Kandahar province; and Gen Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili, the police chief of Kunduz province.

Many say those targeted attacks, like the one on the President's powerful and divisive half-brother, were inside jobs - a sign of the Taleban's growing ability to infiltrate the Afghan security establishment. The man accused of killing Mr Karzai, Sardar Mohammad, had built trust with the family for many years, working as a guard and police commander.

'The enemy has changed its tactic and has focused now on infiltration, and there is no measure to stop this,' said a top Afghan security official.

Among politicians, there is little uniformity when it comes to personal security. Ms Kofi, like most parliamentarians, uses state-provided bodyguards recruited by a central government she does not totally trust. Wealthy, well-connected politicians fund their own security details. Other prominent Afghans rely on private security companies.

But in Afghanistan, no vetting process is without problems, said Mr Ian Hall, an official with Kabul-based White Eagle Security, which coordinates with tribal leaders, police chiefs and provincial officials before hiring its guards.

'In the current situation, you can't trust anyone,' he said.