General Fahim was appointed as the new Defence Minister of Afghanistan on 24 June 2002. The former leader of the Northern Alliance, he is now one of four vice presidents and represents the most powerful military force after the US and ISAF. He continues to maintain a private army and independence from the national government, benefiting from his vast experience in combat and military affairs.

Fahim, far left, has very little in
common with interim President Karzai

Mohammed Qasim Fahim was born in Ommerse, a village in the Panjshir Valley, in 1957. Travelling to Kabul, he went to high school there and remained until the communist coup in 1978. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was a member of KHAD, the secret police of the communist government. But with time, he decided to join the Islamic uprising against the communists in the late 1980s. Returning to Panjshir, he began to work under mujahideen leader General Masood – a position he maintained for nearly 20 years.

Under Ahmed Shah Masood, Fahim played an important role in the resistance to Najibullah's Soviet-sponsored government in the north, a revolt which culminated in the downfall of the communist regime in 1992. Appointed Minister of National Security in the mujahideen government in the same year, he also served as the commander of the state's forces in Kabul for four years before the Taliban began to enjoy their military successes.

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in 1996, Fahim was appointed commander of anti-Taliban forces north of Kabul before being transferred to the north. During these years of struggle, he acted as the commander and administrator of Jamiat Islami forces in Parwan, Baghlan, and other areas and served as the deputy director of the political committee of Shora-e-Nizar led by General Masood. He was constantly moved around different fields of operation. Hashmet Moslih, a former political advisor to Rabbani, speculates that the reason for this was because of his reputation for being easily corrupted, especially by his brothers. By keeping him constantly on the move, however, General Masood may have reckoned that it was less likely that Commander Fahim could build any permanent alliances.

When General Ahmad Shah Masood was assassinated in a human bomb attack carried out by supporters of the Taliban on 9 September, 2001, Fahim was the natural choice to fill his shoes. He was the only commander with experience on all the different fronts against the Taliban.

Today, Fahim represents the power behind the throne. Not much can happen in the former Northern Alliance without his tacit approval. Even the so-called national army comes under his effective control, in addition to his own private forces. Much of the bureaucracy is Northern Alliance too. This is a cause of resentment to the Pashtuns who are suffering a lack of leadership.

Several assassination attempts have been made in recent years. The last car bombing, in April 2002, was only seconds away from eliminating Fahim. Many political analysts believe that unless the US or the wider international community are prepared to face General Fahim down, the chances of a national Afghan government forming any time soon are very limited.