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Fahim May Attempt Struggle to Unite Afghan Rebels After Taliban’s Defeat

By Peter Baker and William Branigin
THE WASHINGTON POST -- JABAL-US-SARAJ, Afghanistan

A taciturn man with none of the late Ahmed Shah Massood’s magnetism, Gen. Mohammed Fahim, 44, will be hard-pressed to match his mentor’s ability to control the Northern Alliance’s quarrelsome factions over the long term.

“Fahim doesn’t have the facility to get the parties together,” said a Western diplomat. Compared to Massood, “he doesn’t have the standing and will never have the standing.”

Built like a fireplug and with a face like a boxer, Fahim is a man of few words and not much formal military training, those who know him say. Born in Northern Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, the son of a Muslim cleric, he went to Kabul to study Islamic law in the 1970s and joined Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Jamiat-i-Islami movement. During a crackdown against the movement by leftist president Mohammed Daoud, who had deposed the Afghan monarchy in 1973, Fahim fled to neighboring Pakistan, where he teamed up with another young exile and fellow ethnic Tajik, Massood.

He later returned to Afghanistan with Massood to organize politically against Daoud. Then, after a bloody communist coup in April 1978, he began helping Massood build his guerrilla army of Islamic mujaheddin, or holy warriors. According to Northern Alliance officials, Fahim served as Massood’s intelligence chief and worked mainly on political issues for him, often journeying to provinces beyond the Panjshir to meet with other resistance factions on his behalf.

“He was not a military person,” said Mohammed Saleh Registani, the alliance’s military attache in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

When the mujaheddin defeated what had been a Soviet puppet government and seized Kabul in 1992, Fahim became security minister in the Rabbani government and became actively involved in military operations. He stayed by Massood’s side when the Taliban drove them from Kabul in 1996. Now Fahim appears confident he can achieve the late commander’s dream of recapturing Kabul without the widespread destruction that ravaged the capital during past power shifts.

“We will try our best to ... prevent looting, revenge and other problems when we take Kabul,” he told the Reuters news agency recently. “We will make sure that the bitter experiences of the past are not repeated.”

New confidence and policies could give Fahim the credibility he currently lacks, but there are other senior generals who could emerge as leading figures in the post-Taliban world.