Mohammed Qasim Fahim
Fahim is the son of a Tajik Mullah from the Panjishir Valley. His career is uniquely hard to follow. He was intelligence chief under Masud, spawning a widely repeated but false rumor that he was in KhAD under Najibullah. Fahim is a capable commander, but a good warlord must be a diplomat too, and Fahim is an awkward looking and personally unlikable man with a temper problem. At present he is a threat to the US plan for Afghanistan.
Afghan intelligence gathering techniques are direct and medieval, and the men who work that field are stained by the stigma of torture and murder. Afghans have a saying that what you do to your enemies today, you will do to your friends tomorrow. Charismatic commanders escape blame for the cruel deeds of their men, but unlikable men like Fahim attract blame for horror stories that might not be true. Supposedly, Fahim arrested, beat, and nearly murdered Hamid Karzai in the 1990s, until one of Hekmatyar’s rockets hit the compound, and Karzai escaped in the confusion.
Masud relied on Fahim’s capable generalship without liking him very much as a person. When Al-Queda murdered Masud on September 9, 2001, the leaders in Panjishir were stunned. They had lived in the shadow of Masud’s genius for decades. They loved and hero-worshipped him. Perhaps Fahim was less stunned because he loved Masud less than the others, and stepped into the leadership gap. He assured the affiliated commanders in the north that the alliance was still solid and took the army in hand.
Fahim commanded the strongest army opposing the Taliban, and he was within miles of Kabul, the capital. But the United States needed a Pashtun to take over national leadership if we hoped to avoid a repeat of the 1990s civil war. We helped Dostum, Ismail Khan, and Atta win back the north, but delayed helping Fahim capture Kabul in hopes a Pashtun would dislodge the Taliban somewhere in the east. It never happened. Haq was captured and hung, and Karzai’s support was still too weak. So we bombed the Shomali plains, and Fahim captured Kabul, dealing the Taliban a huge defeat.
In 2002, the United States passed over Fahim and made Karzai president. Because he already commanded the army, Fahim was appointed defense minister. The interrogation years before contributed to distrust between Karzai and Fahim, but with the United States backing Karzai, Fahim dared not make overt hostile moves. The tight-knit “Panjishiri Mafia” is considered the single greatest danger to Karzai today.