Kabul – Afghanistan’s first vice president, Marshal Mohammed Qassim Fahim, has died in the country’s capital, a spokesman for the Afghan government has confirmed.
In an online statement on Sunday, Aimal Faizi, spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said that Fahim had passed away and that the government had called for a national mourning period.
“The government of Afghanistan has called for three-day national mourning, during which the national flag will be half-hoisted for his demise,” Faizi said on his Twitter account.
Fahim, 57, who became Karzai’s first vice president in 2009, had been suffering from diabetes for years and was believed to be in ill health.
He was influential in the United Front, the movement, which became known as the “Northern Alliance” in the Western media, had been headed by Ahmad Shah Massoud. Fahim took control of the United Front shortly after Massoud’s assassination in September 2001.
Fahim had served as a commander for Massood during the fight against Soviet occupation.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, former Vice President Hedayat Amin Arsala said Fahim was “a leading force in the fight against the Soviet occupation and later against the Taliban”.
“He will be dearly missed by the Afghan people,” he said.
Arsala told Al Jazeera that Fahim was a close colleague who “will be missed by the Afghan people”.
Other presidential candidates have also expressed their condolences.
Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf and Mohammad Ismail Khan, his first vice presidential pick, both arrived at Fahim’s Kartei Parwan neighbourhood house to pay their respects. Sayyaf and Ismail Khan had fought alongside Fahim during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Zalmai Rassoul, former foreign minister, and one of the frontrunners in the April 5 presidential polls, said: “I am deeply saddened and shocked by the news of Marshal Qassim Fahim’s passing.
“My heartfelt condolences are with his family and the Afghan people.”
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Fahim’s death and would be travelling to the vice president’s Kabul residence to pay his respects.
Past and present
In his final years, Fahim had given few interviews to the media, both foreign and domestic.
In one of his final addresses to the media, Fahim spoke of respecting the legacy of the mujahidin, who fought against Soviet occupation.
Though he called for national consensus, it was Fahim’s statement about the role of armed groups in the impending political transition that became the subject of much talk.
“If someone treats us badly, we will not sit still … If one man oppresses me, I will take my weapon and go to the mountains,” Fahim said at the June gathering.
Prior to that, it was an unreleased human rights report that propelled Fahim’s name back into the spotlight.
The vice president was among 500 names the report said were responsible for war-time abuses.
Fahim reportedly called for “30 holes” to be put in a human rights commissioner’s head in reaction.
Prior to his cabinet position, Fahim had served as Massoud’s intelligence officer during the Soviet occupation and their armed opposition of Taliban rule.
In 2002, Fahim began a two-year stint as defence minister, but was roundly criticised over allegations of favouring members of his own Tajik ethnicity.
Though the administration is now in its final days, under the Afghan constitution Karzai must select a replacement first vice president who will be presented to the parliament.
Fahim was born in what is now Panjshir province in 1957. He had survived several assassination attempts, the most recent in 2009. He is survived by his wife Nahid and their four children.