TIME: A Killing in Kabul


At a little after noon on Saturday in Kabul Yusuf Khan called his uncle, one of Afghanistan's four deputy presidents, to ask when he would be home for lunch. "I'll be in the car soon," Abdul Haji Qadir told his young relative. "I'm coming in maybe 15 or 20 minutes." True to his word Qadir drove out of Kabul's Ministry of Public Works — his new cabinet portfolio — at 12:40 p.m. But he never made it on to the street. Two assassins with AK-47 assault rifles were waiting in the bushes shrouding the driveway. As Qadir's dark blue Land Cruiser nosed out of the white grill gates they leapt up and opened fire. Two minutes later the gunmen were gone, Qadir lay dying and the country was once again in turmoil.

Much was riding on Qadir, a former mujahedin hero of the anti-Soviet resistance. As the leading representative of the country's disenfranchised Pashtun majority, Qadir was the centerpiece of President Hamid Karzai's maneuvers to integrate Pashtuns who have been effectively excluded from power by the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance that defeated the Taliban. Now that plan is threatened. "This has been caused by enemies of peace and stability," says Karzai's foreign affairs spokesman Omar Samad.

A warrior for more than two decades and the victor of an intense power struggle in his home province of Nangarhar, Qadir faced a myriad of political, local and business enemies. The best clues lie with the shooters seen lurking for 30 minutes prior to the attack outside the ministry compound. Young cigarette seller Habib Jan noticed them from his stall across the road. "As Haji Qadir was about to pass the gates these two guys in shawar kameez [the traditional clothing typical of Qadir's province] with white caps on their heads stood up and I saw Kalashnikovs behind their backs," he says.

Firing from about 20 feet away, the assassins gave Qadir no chance for escape. His driver, Jaffa, floored the accelerator as high-velocity bullets sliced through the windscreen and panels of the 4x4, hitting Qadir in the head. Turning wildly to the right, the vehicle collided with metal poles lining the driveway, tearing them from the ground. The gunmen continued firing, pouring rounds through the rear window as the car careered along the footpath and crashed into a concrete wall at full speed. Jaffa's lifeless body was later pulled from the wreckage. Blood and brain matter covered the 4x4's dashboard. White tufts of padding poked through holes in the Qadir's passenger seat headrest. Black prayer beads were coiled on a console soaking in blood.

Because crime scence security was non-existent — a policeman sat in the driver's seat and used the bloody steering wheel to drive the limping vehicle away — few answers are likely to be found in the destroyed interior. More, however, may be gleaned elsewhere. One question is what happened to the guards on the gate, eight to ten of whom were taken into police custody as witnesses. Doctor Zia, the chief of police district nine, which covers the ministry compound, said that the guards had left their post for a lunch break at the time of the attack. They belonged to Qadir's predecessor as Public Works Minister and had not been replaced.