The End of an Era? The Death of Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim

by Mara Tchalakov and Saša Hezir

*This article now updated with information about the nomination of Mohammad Yunus Qanooni to fill his position. 

The death of First Vice President Marshal Qasim Fahim will have an even bigger impact on the aftermath of the forthcoming presidential election than on its outcome. 
A consensus view has emerged from the slew of obituaries issuing forth in the wake of Afghanistan’s First Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim’s demise: his death has left a significant void. What form we can expect that void will take or how long it might take to be filled are questions left largely unanswered by the rush of media attention in the wake of his passing on March 9. His sudden departure has introduced three significant uncertainties into Afghanistan’s political landscape at a very crucial time: the selection of the next interim Vice President, the event’s impact on the outcome of the forthcoming presidential elections in a few short weeks, and the future of the fractious Northern Alliance and its influential Tajik-dominated political party, Jamiat-i Islami. Speculation is already running rampant on the implications of his death for the first two of these three struggles for political control; in the longer-term, this third struggle will be the most critical to watch. The following sections analyze the impact of Fahim’s death on the upcoming presidential elections and the larger role his void might play in the future of the fractured Northern Alliance. An investigation of both counts makes clear that the death of First Vice President Marshal Qasim Fahim will have an even bigger impact on the aftermath of the forthcoming presidential election than on its outcome. 
Fahim and the Presidential Elections 
The relative openness of the presidential field has produced a collective belief that the demise of the Afghan First Vice President will have a significant impact on the outcome of the Afghan election. Given Fahim’s vast network in Kabul and across the northern provinces, his leadership of the ethnic Tajik minority, and his influence within the more cohesive elements of the Afghan security apparatus, such a conclusion appears logical. This collective sense has been heightened by indications that Fahim was privately supporting Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s candidacy; indeed, Abdullah is widely expected to suffer the most from Fahim’s departure. As the only Tajik presidential candidate and as a fellow Panjshiri with a solid pedigree from Jamiat-i Islami, Abdullah might easily have been Fahim’s natural preference. The other major Tajik figure in the race, Ahmad Zia Masoud, presently running as Zalmai Rasoul’s First Vice Presidential candidate, replaced Fahim on the 2004 Karzai presidential ticket and had in the past vied with him for leadership of the Panjshiri faction of Ahmad Shah Masoud’s former party. As far back as September of last year, Fazl Rahmand Oria, a spokesperson for Abdullah’s National Coalition of Afghanistan (NCA) party, triumphantly announced that Fahim had pledged his early support to Abdullah’s campaign. Upon Fahim’s death, Abdullah aides issued self-serving affirmations to the press that “since Marshal Fahim’s supporters are aware that he (Fahim) threw his weight behind Abdullah in the coming elections they will cast their votes in Abdullah’s favor.”

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