MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai is struggling to hang on to power. He's facing a power grab by former warlords in parliament. One of their targets is Karzai's foreign minister, a Westernized, left-leaning leader. This week, Karzai drew the line. He announced that he's sticking with his foreign minister.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has a profile of this embattled member of Karzai's government.
President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): (Pashto spoken)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: At a news conference in his Kabul palace, Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared war this week in an uncharacteristic rant. But this war isn't against the Taliban, it's against the Afghan parliament which is demanding that Karzai sack his foreign minister. Karzai tells reporters the demand is illegal, that Afghanistan's supreme court backs him up, and that he's going to stand by his foreign minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.
Pres. KARZAI: (Pashto spoken)
It's a confrontation some political analysts here believe could make or break Karzai. On the surface, it's a test of Afghanistan's new democracy - whether the president or parliament is in charge here. These Afghan and Western analysts say the fight could be Karzai's last stand against the former warlords who dragged this country through a quarter century of war. These former Mujahideen are growing stronger amid the spreading insecurity in Afghanistan. They dominate parliament, and they are threatening to shut it down if the foreign minister stays.
Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.
Mr. RANGEEN DADFAR SPANTA (Foreign Minister, Afghanistan): (Through translator) I told him it was dangerous to work with me because of my leftist political past and my strong positions today. Because, as they say in German, I call things as I see them. He said, no, I want you to do this anyway.
NELSON: Spanta sees himself as the modern Afghan, one who is as comfortable speaking German, as he is his native Dari; an intellectual who prefers Western suits over traditional tunics and baggy pants; a staunch supporter of women's rights who embraces secularism and shuns tribal affiliations.
This modern enlightened faith of post 9/11 Afghanistan is what Karzai wants the world to see. But Spanta's persona and politics do not play so well with the power brokers back home, especially after he began to push for a public airing of war crimes that killed and maimed millions of Afghans.
Mr. SPANTA: (Through translator) Many lawmakers felt targeted. They were scared that I, with the help of foreigners, was going to take them to court like Saddam Hussein. That was never my intention. I want national reconciliation.
NELSON: The former Mujahideen thought otherwise. They passed an amnesty bill that left Spanta's efforts dead in the water. Then, they went after Spanta himself. The hunt began in earnest this spring, when Iran deported tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. They were left stranded at the Afghan border without food and water. Lawmakers summoned Spanta and the Afghan minister of refugees. They voted to fire the refugee's minister. A vote to fire Spanta failed. But his opponents rallied and ordered another vote. This time, it passed. Kunduz province lawmaker, Qarimatullah, was one who voted to fire Spanta.
QARIMATULLAH (Lawmaker, Kunduz Province, Afghanistan): (Through translator) The foreign minister's job is to look out for Afghans who live abroad. He did not do that. He didn't even know how many Afghans were in Iranian prisons. Nor did he know about an international agreement allowing the deportation. All of this led us to impeach him.
NELSON: Qarimatullah says Spanta holding dual Afghan-German citizenship is another reason he should no longer serve. But a foreign ministry spokesman says Spanta has given up his German citizenship.
Meanwhile, Spanta's supporters say the foreign minister made too many enemies because he refused to appoint relatives of powerbrokers to diplomatic posts.
Kabul lawmaker Mir Ahmed Joyenda adds that Spanta did everything he could to help the refugees. He summoned the Iranian ambassador. He sent letters to Tehran and to U.N. refugee officials in Geneva. He complained to his Iranian counterpart.
Mr. MIR AHMED JOYENDA (Deputy Director for Program Support, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit): What else he can do? Because when you have a valid passport with a visa - when the police of Iran tear it - what you can do? Do you have rocket? Do you have B-52? You can attack Iran? No. Just you can protest. This much he can do.
NELSON: Spanta says he's twice offered his resignation to Karzai to make the turmoil go away. Spanta says he prefers being a college professor anyway. But Karzai has refused.
Joyenda says that's a good thing. He believes if Spanta leaves, it will spur Karzai's opponents into tearing up the rest of his government.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.
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