Afghanistan: Lawmakers' Slayings Pose Hard Questions
By Amin Tarzi
The 4 December killing of Esmatullah Mohabat, who was elected to the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the Afghan National Assembly on 18 September, has reopened questions regarding politically motivated killings in Afghanistan and the effectiveness of the country's disarmament program. It has also forced the Afghan authorities to suspend the current electoral law.
Mohabat was a warlord in Laghman Province, east of Kabul, and was captured after clashing with U.S. forces in neighboring Nangarhar Province in 2004. He spent time in U.S. detention, suspected of having links to the neo-Taliban, before being released a few months prior to the September 2005 elections, in which he won one of four seats allocated for Laghman. Mohabat officially participated in the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) in order to become eligible to appear on the ballot.
President Hamid Karzai has appointed a commission to investigate Mohabat's killing, but the circumstances surrounding the murder remain murky.
While Afghan officials have indicated that Mohabat was trying to confront a "businessman" who had captured one of his men when he was killed along with his bodyguard, his brother Hajji Naqibullah blamed "enemies" for attacking Mohabat's vehicle while he was traveling to their sister's home.
Protests In Mehtarlam
Following Mohabat's murder, authorities reported the arrest of Mohammad Sardar, whose relationship with Mohabat was not elaborated, on suspicion of involvement in the killing. However some of the slain parliamentarian's supporters took the law into their hands and on 8 December set fire to Sardar's house in Mehtarlam, the provincial capital of Laghman, and implicated governmental officials -- including Laghman Province Governor Shah Mahmud Safi -- in the case. The protestors hurled stones at government buildings in Mehtarlam and demanded the resignation of a number of security officials and Safi's dismissal.
In addition, the protestors demanded that Mohabat's seat in the People's Council be transferred to his brother Naqibullah.
Naqibullah blamed his brother's murder on the DDR process, telling the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press on 8 December that "on several occasions we asked the authorities to provide weapons to Mohabat so he could protect himself." However, he added, these requests were rejected.
Not The First
Mohabat is the second parliamentarian-elect to have been killed under mysterious circumstances since the September election. Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan, elected to the People's Council from northern Balkh Province, was gunned down with one of his bodyguards on 27 September as he drove from a vote counting station in Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh's provincial capital. Posthumously, Ramazan was certified as having won one of the province's 11 seats in the lower house.
Following Ramazan's killing, many of his supporters accused Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur of involvement in the assassination. Protesters, reportedly as many as 1,000 people, tried to block the main road linking Balkh and points south, include the capital Kabul, prompting the central government to send a unit of rapid-reaction troops to Balkh. The protestors in Balkh, like those in Laghman, demanded the removal of officials and that Ramazan's brother, Ahmad Shah Ramazan, be allowed to occupy the seat that his slain brother seemed poised to win.
The killings of two members-elect of the People's Council has opened a debate among Afghan commentators and media outlets on whether the electoral law as it stands has encouraged the killings by rival political groups hoping to occupy the vacated seats. The law stipulates that if a candidate is not able to take his or her seat in the lower house for any reason, the seat will be allocated to the candidate of the same gender who received the next largest number of votes.
These concerns have prompted the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) to keep Mohabat's seat vacant while apparently awaiting either changes to the law or intervention by the government. The Afghan cabinet in a meeting held on 12 December suspended the clause regarding replacing slain members of the legislature. However it is not clear what specific steps the government has recommended for filling Mohabat's seat in Laghman. According to the information on the JEMB's website, Ramazan's seat in Balkh has been taken over by Sayyed Zaher Masrur, who was the next qualifiying candidate in the province. In Laghman, Mohabat is still identified as one of the representatives from that province.
Meanwhile, Karzai appointed Ramazan's brother Ahmad Shah Ramazan as one of the 34 members of the Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) -- the upper chamber of the National Assembly -- that the Afghan Constitution requires be appointed by president.
An ad hoc measure may also be taken in the case of Mohabat's brother to satisfy his supporters. But the larger and long-term question of reforming the electoral law remains unanswered. Moreover, a more through investigation of Mohabat's murder may reveal the extent to which DDR-process requirements were actually abided as regards candidates who officially gave up their military assets to become Afghanistan's future lawmakers. Unless these cases are pursued with vigor and preventive measures are put in place to prevent politicians from becoming targets or themselves targeting their opponents, lawlessness may prevail among those who will make Afghanistan's laws.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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