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Eastern Afghan City Changes Its Guard

Politics: In Jalalabad, one opposition member regains power and another is named military leader.


JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Two weeks ago, he was in the mountains of Afghanistan opposing the Taliban.

On Saturday, Haji Abdul Qadir presided over a news conference in the ornate receiving room of the royal summer palace here on his first day back as governor of Nangarhar province.

Nothing could have been more emblematic of the changes that have taken place since the Taliban left Jalalabad two days earlier.

Yet some things hadn't changed at all: Surrounding the palace gardens were bearded men bristling with weapons. Only this time, it wasn't the black-turbaned Taliban but a force dedicated to keeping the fundamentalists out.

"If anyone gives the Taliban a chance to come back," Qadir warned in serviceable English, "you will then be again like Sept. 11."

Earlier in the day, at a conference of provincial elders here, Qadir was named governor of the province, a post he once held. His return to power came just three weeks after the Taliban executed his brother, famed Afghan commander Abdul Haq. Qadir's friend and former exile Haji Mohammed Zaman was chosen as commander of the military.

Both Qadir and Zaman claimed to have their own armies--refugees from Pakistan and former allies who had gone underground during Taliban rule.

Both men were deported from neighboring Pakistan in 1997 because of their opposition to the Taliban regime, which Pakistan then supported. Qadir won political asylum in Germany and later moved to Afghanistan, where he was one of the few ethnic Pushtun commanders to serve with the Northern Alliance. Zaman received political asylum in France. Last week, he returned triumphantly to his family home--a large, walled compound with a three-acre garden that had been commandeered by the Taliban.

"I knew someday I would be back," Zaman said, sitting on cushions in an upstairs parlor. "The Taliban and Afghanistan's people did not match."

Qadir estimated that 1,500 Arab and other foreign supporters of the Taliban are hiding in the Safed Koh (White Mountains) about 12 miles from this eastern cultural center famed for its orange groves.

"Finding these Arabs will not be easy," Qadir said. "I will need help." He claimed that he has 20,000 armed supporters in the province.

Qadir and Zaman, both educated and multilingual, would seem to be ideal candidates to lead the large ethnic Pushtun population of eastern Afghanistan. But a third, more controversial figure in Jalalabad is a fundamentalist cleric, Maulana Yunis Khalif, who has close ties to the Taliban.

When the Taliban left Jalalabad on Thursday without a fight, it turned the city over to Khalif, who in turn allowed the fighters to take their guns with them. At the tribal meeting Saturday, Khalif agreed to hand over power to Qadir.

Khalif leads his own moujahedeen party, Hezb-i-Islami Khalif. During the 10-year war against the Soviet Union, one of his fighters was Mullah Mohammed Omar, who later became the Taliban's leader.

After sporadic fighting here Wednesday, Zaman said, the rest of the week was mostly calm.

"Today is better than yesterday," said Zaman. "Tomorrow will be better than today."

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