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Warlord vows fight, won't quit as governor
KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan warlord who led the worst factional fighting since the fall of the Taliban vowed Sunday to fight rather than step down as governor of an eastern province. In the north, warlords agreed to create a "security belt" to keep unauthorized weapons out of a major city.
Under a plan reminiscent of stories about taming the American Wild West, travelers entering Mazar-e-Sharif will have to check their weapons upon entering -- getting them back only on the way out. Checkpoints encircling the northern city will keep out guns under a pact by warlords to create a security force run by the central government, not local militias, an official said Sunday.
Since the fall of the Taliban in November, warlords have been reasserting their authority in several regions. The interim government led by Hamid Karzai has been working to extend its influence and reduce the role of the militias.
Yet with no national army, Karzai's administration has little power to impose peace on feuding warlords.
At a news conference Sunday in eastern Afghanistan, warlord Bacha Khan said he has 6,000 fighters ready to do battle again with forces loyal to the town council, or shura, of Gardez, who oppose his appointment as governor of surrounding Paktia province.
"They are no town council," thundered Khan, with a bandoleer of bullets across his chest. "They are an al-Qaida council and a Taliban council."
He added: "We are ready to fight al-Qaida today, tomorrow or any time."
Gardez shura leaders deny being al-Qaida or Taliban members and accuse Khan of being unscrupulous and corrupt.
Fighting between the two sides in January killed at least 60 people. The town council's refusal to accept Khan, whose appointment was confirmed by the government only after he had declared himself governor, threatens efforts by Karzai's administration to extend its authority.
The fighting ended with a cease-fire. Khan and shura members held talks with the government in Kabul, the capital, this weekend to seek a longer-term solution.
But Khan later said he would not step down if Karzai appoints another governor.
The efforts to extend the central government's authority continued as refugees in Pakistan on Sunday revealed the arrest of a prominent Taliban official. The reported arrest coincided with Friday's surrender of Taliban foreign minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the highest Taliban official known to be in custody.
Taliban official arrested
Mullah Siddiqulla, a one-legged senior official in the Taliban's irrigation ministry, was arrested by Pakistani security officials Friday at the Harkat refugee camp near Peshawar, close to the border with Afghanistan, refugees at the camp said Sunday.
Pakistani officials refused to confirm the arrest.
Afghan authorities say Muttawakil, now held by the U.S. military, should be put on trial to answer for crimes committed during the Islamic militia's rule.
As a former Cabinet minister, Muttawakil could provide information about the movements of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in the regime's final days. Both men remain at large.
A reinforced "security belt" around Mazar-e-Sharif was among the new elements hammered out in a high-level meeting of the area's three main militias, said Sayed Noorullah, head of the interim government's foreign affairs office for northern Afghanistan.
Envoys agreed last week to withdraw their fighters from the city and create a 600-member security force under the interim government.