Karzai's Close Call

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 6 2002 10:31 AM

Karzai's Close Call

Everybody but the Washington Post leads with the assassination attempt yesterday on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar, just hours after a car bomb killed dozens in Kabul. Karzai escaped injury in the attack, but the governor of Kandahar and one of the U.S. special operations forces soldiers who was guarding the president suffered injuries. The special operations guards killed the attacker. (The WP lead goes local, with the resignation of the CEO of United Way's D.C. chapter.)

Karzai was in Kandahar—which is his hometown, and which USA Today says is also the Taliban's "spiritual center"—for a family wedding. He had just gotten into his car when a gunman opened fire, killing one of Karzai's Aghan guards. Only the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times identify the assailant—Abdul Rahman, a native of Kajaki, which NYT says is a city that has a reputation for its anti-American sentiment—and only the LAT reports that Rahman was a member of the governor of Kandahar's security detail. Karzai's security was taken over by U.S. special operations forces in July, after one of his vice presidents was assassinated.

The car bomb in Kabul, which was detonated minutes after a smaller explosive seemingly set off just to gather a crowd, was the worst violence in that city since the Taliban lost power in December. The number killed is unclear—the Washington Post says 10, the NYT says 25 in a headline but "as many as 30" in the story itself, and the LAT says 24 or 26, depending on the source. Everybody suggests that the attacks indicate just how fragile the political system in Afghanistan is. The WP points out that there is no formal plan for Karzai's succession should something happen to him. The NYT suggests high up that the attacks will "renew debate" over the extent and makeup of an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan; the U.S. hasn't been supportive of such a force, but seems to be changing its view. Everybody reports speculation that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord who recently swore allegiance to the Taliban and al-Qaida, is behind the attacks.

The NYT and the WP both off-lead with stories about the upcoming Congressional debate over military action in Iraq. The NYT story suggests that the Iraq issue might still be in play for the midterm elections: The paper says the White House expects a resolution authorizing military action before Congress adjourns for the elections, but the Senate leaders of both parties say no timetable should be set for the vote and that they will hold hearings for weeks, leaving open the possibility that the issue may be unresolved in November.

The WP story leads with news that Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet gave a top-secret briefing on Iraq to top congressional leaders yesterday. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the meeting was helpful, and Minority Leader Trent Lott said it was "interesting and troubling," which the WP takes to mean that it included previously undisclosed information on the threat Iraq poses. While the briefing was the first step in the administration's campaign to convince Congress that Iraq is an immediate threat, the story suggests that the White House doesn't have the goods on Saddam—it quotes one anonymous White House official as saying that the White House doesn't have a "silver bullet" and that Congress won't be presented with "a black-and-white decision."

Both the WP and the NYT quote President Bush, in a speech in Kentucky, saying the upcoming debate won't change his mind on Iraq. But while the WP offers the uninterrupted quote—"One thing is for certain: I'm not going to change my view. And it's this: We cannot let the world's worst leaders blackmail America"—the NYT interjects a telling paraphrase. After Bush's phrase "my view," the NYT interrupts the quote by adding, "about the need to remove Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader," before returning to the rest of Bush's words.

The NYT and LAT front the Senate's vote yesterday to allow commercial airline pilots to carry handguns in the cockpit. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the measure, which the House already passed. Both stories note that the measure faces numerous administrative hurdles, including potential conflicts with local and international gun control laws, not to mention President Bush's ambivalence to the idea.

The LAT fronts the answer to one of the enduring mysteries of our day—who killed Tupac Shakur? The piece, the first of a two-part, year-long investigation pegged to the sixth anniversary of the rapper's murder, fingers a Los Angeles gang member named Orlando Anderson. The story says Anderson had a personal beef with Shakur—the rapper had attacked Anderson in a hotel lobby just hours before the murder—as well as a financial incentive. The rapper Notorious B.I.G., the story says, offered Anderson $1 million to kill his rival Shakur. According to the LAT, the Notorious B.I.G., who was later himself the victim of an unsolved murder, even insisted that his own pistol be used. Anderson was killed in 1998 in an unrelated incident.

Finally, the USAT fronts a story of unintended consequences in the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Three months ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that he intended to enforce an old law requiring legal aliens to notify the government when they change addresses. Failure to do so could result in deportation. Since then, the INS has received 700,000 change-of-address notices from law-abiding immigrants, a deluge so great that they've essentially given up on processing them. "There is too much paper here," an INS spokesman told USAT.