Journal Sentinel Inc, October 29, 2005

Winning Afghan candidates become warlords' targets

In Farah, Malalai Joya, an election winner, has been threatened several times and says she fears for her life

By Abdul Baseer Saeed

Kabul, Afghanistan - Dr. Mohammad Saleh Saljoqi, a physician in Herat, was delighted when preliminary results showed that his campaign to win one of the 17 seats in the new parliament allotted to his province had been successful.

But his joy was short-lived after a bomb blast ripped through his consulting room earlier this month, injuring 13 patients.

Saljoqi was not hurt, but, barely an hour later, he found more explosive materials in a trash bin near his house.

"I do not have any enemies," said the 42-year-old. "But I think that my victory in the elections was just not acceptable for some people."

His relatives are now protecting the doctor, who said he is reluctant to trust government security forces.

Since the Sept. 8 parliamentary elections, successful candidates whose names have appeared on preliminary lists have become increasingly uneasy about their safety. That's because the election law states that in the event of death or removal of a successful candidate prior to the first session of the parliament, the seat will go to the candidate with the next highest vote total.

Some would-be parliamentarians say this is tantamount to declaring open season on them.

In recent weeks, one provisionally elected candidate has been murdered, and several others have narrowly escaped attempts on their lives. Others are enduring whisper campaigns designed to discredit and disqualify them, clearing the way for their political rivals.

The assassination of Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan, who appeared to have won the election in Balkh, set off demonstrations and protests by those blaming provincial governor Atta Mohammad for the attack.

In Farah, Malalai Joya, another election winner, has been threatened several times and says she fears for her life. Her outspoken position against the country's warlords at the constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003 made her many enemies, she said, and the threats have only intensified since the parliamentary election.

Malalai Shinwari, who came in first among Kabul's female candidates, said threats and intimidation have increased since her apparent victory. She blames the armed commanders who also appear to have won seats in the parliament with instigating the violence in their own political interests.

"The presence of warlords in the parliament means that independent candidates will never feel safe," she said.

Sultan Ahmad Baheen, spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body, acknowledged that numerous successful candidates have either been attacked or threatened since the vote but doubts that the violence has anything to do with their election victories.

"These murders were related to personal issues, personal feuds," he said.

Still, even he acknowledged that security remains an important issue.

Yousuf Stanikzai, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, seemed to think that threats and assassinations were a normal part of democracy.

"This kind of thing happens all over the world," he insisted. "If any of the candidates has a problem, then he or she can come to the Interior Ministry and we will provide security."

But many victors have not been reassured by such statements.

Shukria Barakzai, one of nine successful women candidates in Kabul, said the situation was so bad that some of those elected to parliament do not want their names announced before the body holds its first session.

Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, who appears to have won a seat in Kabul, said all this violence only serves to further weaken the government of President Hamid Karzai.

"If the government cannot protect candidates, it is a sign that the government is weak and its enemies are strong," he said. "In this case, no candidate will ever feel safe."

Abdul Baseer Saeed is a journalist in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a non-profit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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