By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 11, 2006
KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 10 -- A suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body assassinated a popular governor in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, two days after a powerful car bombing killed 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers, in downtown Kabul, the capital.
Hakim Taniwal, 63, the scholarly and soft-voiced governor of Paktia province, was a close confidant of President Hamid Karzai and a political figure known for his skill at bringing together hostile groups in the country's volatile tribal regions near the Pakistani border.
Taniwal and a nephew, driver and bodyguard were killed when the bomber threw himself under their vehicle and detonated the explosives as they were approaching the governor's office in the provincial capital, Gardez, about 80 miles south of Kabul.
The killing shocked foreign diplomats and political leaders, who praised Taniwal for his service to the country. Long exiled in Australia, the former sociology professor returned home in 2002 after Karzai asked him to become governor of Khost province, also in the east. He shifted to Paktia several months ago.
"He was a great patriot who had fought against violence and corruption in Paktia, he brought tribes together, and he made a great contribution to the national reconciliation program," said Khaleeq Ahmad, a spokesman for Karzai. "It is a very sad day for Afghanistan to lose such a good man."
Officials attributed the killing to unspecified "enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan," but it came as NATO forces have been battling a fierce insurgency dominated by the revived Taliban militia across southern Afghanistan.
On Sunday, NATO officials in Kabul said their troops had killed more than 400 Taliban fighters in nine days of combat in the southern province of Kandahar, where insurgents have captured several villages in two districts.
In addition to attacking with firearms, insurgents in recent months have increasingly employed suicide bombings, once virtually unknown in Afghanistan. A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said a suicide cell was now believed to be operating in the city and attempting to target international military facilities.
The suicide bombing Friday in Kabul occurred on the same block as the U.S. Embassy. The bomber drove a white sedan into a passing U.S. military convoy, setting off an explosion that killed two soldiers and 14 Afghan civilians. More than 20 people were injured.
Taniwal was the first Afghan governor to be killed on the job since the Karzai government took office in late 2001. Several other governors have survived assassination attempts, and two cabinet ministers were killed in Kabul by unknown assailants.
In recent months, Taliban fighters have killed numerous local officials in the south, including religious leaders, mayors, members of parliament and others they denounced as traitors for supporting the Karzai government and its Western backers.
In an interview with The Washington Post in 2002 in his former office in Khost province, Taniwal said he had been reluctant to leave his family in Australia but wanted to help Karzai establish a strong democratic government after years of bloodshed and repression in Afghanistan.
He said he believed in bringing all Afghans into a national dialogue, including former Taliban members who were willing to return to civilian life. Afghan officials said Sunday that he had been attempting to do the same thing in his new post in Paktia province.
"I am not a commander. I am a peaceful man, and I want to resolve this peacefully. . . . I want to finish the Kalashnikov culture," Taniwal said in the 2002 interview in Khost, where he was attempting to negotiate with a renegade militia commander.
Taniwal had said that his children opposed his returning to Afghanistan to serve in the Karzai government but that he agreed to help pacify the turbulent eastern region.
"This is my home, and I wanted to do something for my people," he said. "I am not alone here."