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Afghan President Removes Key Governors Ahead of October Elections  - 2004-09-11

Afghanistan's interim President Hamid Karzai has removed two provincial governors - including a powerful regional warlord - in a bid to consolidate the central government's authority. The move comes less than a month before landmark presidential elections on October 9.

A presidential statement issued in Kabul Saturday says that Ismail Khan, the governor of the western Herat province, has been promoted to national minister of mines and industry. It says the decision was taken to utilize Mr. Khan's "extensive experience as well as his management skills at the national level."

The veteran Mujahideen leader Khan has long been a critic of the interim Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Karzai has tried to promote and move him to Kabul before as Interior minister and vice president, but both offers were turned down.

This time Mr. Khan is said to have accepted his dismissal as governor of the Herat province but he has declined the offer of a post in President Karzai's cabinet.

A statement issued by the American embassy in Kabul says U.S ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to Mr. Khan regarding his new assignment. It says the western Afghan warlord told the ambassador that he is not able to accept the ministerial position but promised to work for the peace and prosperity of the country and his home province of Herat.

The pro-Iran Afghan warlord has been resisting pressure from the central government to disarm his private militia. The United Nations has long maintained that without disarming thousands of private fighters, improving security and holding free and fair elections, Afghanistan will remain a major challenge.

U.N. spokesman in Kabul, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, this week repeated demands that the Afghan government accelerate efforts to disarm private militias and reduce influence of regional warlords ahead of the October's presidential elections.

"The less armed militias you have the greater the possibility for an environment where people will feel free to exercise their right of choice," he said.

As part of the official disarmament campaign, 14,000 Afghan fighters have been demobilized since October, and at least 27,000 more are to be disarmed before October's presidential elections.

President Karzai also replaced Mohammad Ibrahim Malikzada as governor of Ghor province with Abdul Qadir Alam. The outgoing governor's forces were blamed for helping a rival commander, Amanullah Khan, in Herat province in his efforts to dislodge governor Ismail Khan. The violence had left dozens of people dead, provoking President Karzai to order Saturdays dismissals.