Afghanistan's new prime minister had a disastrous run the first
time he held the post four years ago. Two years into the job he
tried to oust opponents in his coalition government, leaving 45,000
people dead and reducing most of the capital to rubble.
Now Kabul's citizens are watching him anxiously, hoping he will
do better this time.
But six weeks after taking up his post, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
announced that Islamic holy law (sharia) would be strictly observed
and that he would support countries such as Libya and Sudan. But
this has done little to win over a country torn apart by 17 years
Credibility may be his problem. In Afghan politics, factions
regularly split and form new alliances. Statesmanship, Afghans
often say, consists in changing sides at the right time.
This could be said of Mr. Hekmatyar, who once again heads the
government he previously denounced as "un-Islamic." The new
administration, sworn in June 26, is supposedly an interim
government that is to organize elections within six to 12 months.
But Hekmatyar's first measures have alarmed Kabul residents and
members of the coalition who think he should be more concerned with
providing food, water, and electricity.
Soon after assuming power, Hekmatyar closed Kabul's cinemas and
banned light music from state radio and television. Besides
ordering women to wear Islamic dress, he made compulsory the saying
of prayers five times a day.
"The prime minister should be aware that he is part of a
coalition government before committing himself to zealotry," one
senior foreign ministry official says. "He is trying to live in a
utopia - an ideal Islamic world."
The prime minister's main concern, the official says is to be
the authoritative voice of Islam, an image he has cultivated over
the past 20 years.
Foreign diplomats say Hekmatyar, by bringing a "proper"
interpretation of sharia, aims to undercut Taliban, a group of
religious students who have taken up arms against the government
since 1994 and have quickly taken control of much of this Central
The fundamentalist Taliban, which has imposed sharia in the
parts of the country that it controls, has besieged Kabul for the
past 10 months. Almost daily rocket and artillery attacks have left
hundreds dead and thousands wounded.
Taliban registered its approval of the new prime minister by
marking his swearing-in ceremony with the heaviest artillery attack
on Kabul this year. While Hekmatyar took his oath in the
dilapidated Inter-Continental Hotel, outside 61 people were killed
by rockets and shells. …