Afghan vice president dies aged 57
Afghan vice president Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a commander in the alliance that fought the Taliban who was later accused with other warlords of targeting civilian areas during the conflict, has died aged 57.
Mr Fahim was an ethnic Tajik who was the top deputy of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the charismatic Northern Alliance commander who was killed in an al Qaida suicide bombing two days before the September 11 2001 attacks.
President Hamid Karzai's office said Mr Fahim, who held the rank of field marshal, died from an illness in Kabul. The exact cause of death was not immediately known. Mr Fahim had survived several assassination attempts, most recently in 2009 in northern Afghanistan.
His longtime friend and Afghanistan's ambassador to Spain, Masood Khalili, said Mr Fahim "was not feeling good. He had diabetes. He had had two heart operations and three times he had gone to Germany for check-ups." Mr Khalili was badly wounded in the same suicide bombing that killed Massoud.
Mr Fahim served as defence minister in Mr Karzai's first administration and most recently was the first of two vice presidents. But he was best remembered as a former warlord who fought against the Soviets when they occupied the country and for taking part in the bitter internecine fighting that marked the early 1990s. He went on to battle alongside Massoud against the Taliban.
In a televised address to the nation, Mr Karzai called Mr Fahim his close friend and brother.
"No one can replace him. It is a loss for all of us," Mr Karzai said. "Fahim was part of every historic decision made for the future of Afghanistan."
The government also called for a three-day mourning period to begin Monday.
Mr Fahim "started his fight for the liberation of Afghanistan," when he was barely out of his teens, Mr Khalili said in a telephone interview from Spain.
"He was one of the heroes of Afghanistan. He was the one who stood alongside Massoud. He never accepted the Taliban, their ideas, their government. He was always rejecting al-Qaida as terrorists," Mr Khalili said.
The Pashtun-dominated Taliban seized Kabul in 1996 and ruled from the capital until they were ousted five years later by the US-led coalition and its Afghan allies in the Northern Alliance, made mostly of minorities including ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
Mr Fahim was widely accused of marginalising all Pashtuns, particularly in the security services, during his tenure as defence minister in the first years after the Taliban's collapse. He was bitterly criticised for alleged past atrocities, such as killing civilians by rocketing residential areas and booby-trapping homes, his heavy handedness and allegations of corruption.
Human Rights Watch accused Mr Fahim, as well as several other prominent warlords allied with the US-led coalition, of war crimes when they last ruled in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, before the Taliban took over.
He was removed from his post as defence minister in 2004.
"He kept quiet when he was removed as defence minister. He wanted the country to move toward democracy," Mr Khalili said.
As Afghanistan headed into its first presidential elections in 2004, Mr Fahim distanced himself from Mr Karzai and threw his support behind his fellow Tajik, Yunus Qanooni. Eventually the two men reconciled and Mr Karzai chose Mr Fahim as his first vice president in the 2009 presidential elections, putting him first in line to fill in for the Afghan leader during absences from the country.
"I was just writing in my diary my thoughts. He was a good man. I have good memories of my friend," Mr Khalili said. "He wasn't just a fighter. He had a kind, soft heart for culture, for poetry. There was a milder side to him. It was not just always that he was thinking with the gun. He also thought of poor Afghans."