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In Afghanistan, the assassination of the country's former president last week signaled a dark reminder of what might be on the horizon. He was killed by a suicide bomber who said he was peace envoy from the Taliban. The attack comes as American troops begin a gradual withdrawal. That combination has exposed a deep anxiety among Afghans about the country's future. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports that many fear another civil war.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Most of the international focus on the death of Burhannidin Rabbani has to do with his position on Afghanistan's High Peace Council. Inside the country, more attention is being paid to Rabbani's position as an ethnic Tajik warlord. His followers see his party as a bulwark against the ethnic Pashtun Taliban. But Rabbani's death is just the latest in a string of assassinations targeting his party. This week, hundreds of supporters marched through Kabul shouting death to Pakistan, death to the Taliban, and death to President Hamid Karzai, among many others.


LAWRENCE: Leading the crowd was Amruallah Saleh, Afghanistan's former intelligence chief. Saleh denounced appeasement of the Taliban and what he called a Taliban fifth column inside Karzai's government. Saleh pledged more non-violent protests, but it was hard not to notice that the crowd was overwhelmingly Tajik and the Afghans they were chanting death to were almost all Pashtuns. The factionalization goes beyond rhetoric. According to American and Afghan high-ranking former officials, ethnic political parties are staking up positions within the government, and especially within the security forces, in anticipation of renewed factional fighting after Western forces leave the country. Many highly qualified security officers have been transferred or removed from key posts in favor of party faithful. Lieutenant General Abdulhadi Khalid says he was pushed out because he is not connected with any of the parties.

ABDULHADI KHALID: Those parties who are cause of civil war. They are very strong and powerful in the army and our government and they know how to control Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: Abdulhadi says even down to the company level, it's very difficult to get promoted without a letter from one of the ethnic parties. Analysts say in particular that the Tajik vice president and the Tajik minister of the interior have placed men in positions with control over lucrative black market goods and in key locations from Afghanistan's previous civil war. General Abdulhadi says the corruption saps morale. He thinks the Afghan army can beat the insurgents but only with clean, patriotic leaders.

KHALID: If leadership, President Karzai, they don't start from now to clean army, clean all institutions. If they don't put patriotic elements on the top of these forces, we are not sure that Afghanistan will pass this crisis.

LAWRENCE: Abdulhadi says the same factions that fought the civil war in the 1990s are now vastly more powerful from all the wealth they've accumulated over 10 years of American-led aid. A recent survey by the Killid Group, an Afghan media company, linked almost every minister or serving member of parliament to one of the former warlords.

MOHAMMAD ISAQZADEH: The issue of patronage and relationship between the parliament and the executive is not something secret. Everybody knows.

LAWRENCE: Mohammad Isaqzadeh teaches political science at the American University in Kabul. He notes the rise in particular of the Hizbi Islami faction within President Karzai's government. It's a mostly Pashtun political movement that still has connections with the insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord. President Karzai needs Hizbi Islami to provide support from his fellow Pashtuns, says Professor Isaqzadeh.

ISAQZADEH: One issue is the ethnic issue, that they are Pashtun, and president will need them, and the other issue is, I think, it is believed that they may be able to help the peace and reconciliation project in Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: But with peace and reconciliation now seeming a more distant prospect, many Afghans fear their country's factions are carving up the government and the military in preparation for war. Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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