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Friday, March 31, 2006


Karachi, 30 March (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - The release of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan citizen who has been freed after facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity, has mobilised the former mujahadeen and other influential figures in the newly formed Afghan parliament, giving them an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the US-backed administration of president Hamid Karzai.

Abdul Rahman, a Christian for 16 years, was charged with rejecting Islam but his case was dismissed because of gaps in evidence and after being deemed mentally unfit for trial.

The case caused an international outcry from Afghanistan's allies, including the US, Britain, Germany, Italy and Sweden, who called on Kabul to respect international laws on freedom of religion and human rights.

The Afghan parliament criticised the release on Wednesday with MPs insisting that Rahman should not be granted asylum abroad and should be re-arrested and executed. On Thursday, the MPs vowed to investigate whether the Afghan judiciary violated Islamic law by freeing Rahman. The case has exposed a division between the conservative and the more democratic elements of the new parliament, which was elected in September in the first free parliamentary vote in 30 years.

Rahman has since been granted asylum in Italy and has already arrived in the country.

However since his release, thousands of people have also expressed their anger; from Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif as well as Balkh and other northern parts of the country.

"Everybody knows that government released Abdul Rahman on the flimsy grounds that he is insane. Actually the government caved in to international pressure,” Abdul Hadi Argundwal, a top leader of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, told AdnKronos International (AKI) in a telephone from Kabul.

The Hizb-i-Islami, an element of the Afghan resistance, is now a registered organisation, after dismissing its former mujahadeen leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The group is currently led by Khalid Farooqui.

"Abdul Rahman’s own family filed a petition against him [arguing mental instability] after he converted so that he would not be given custody of his children," said Afghan parliamentarian Sibgathullah Zaki. "Now if he is proven insane, of course the grounds for execution would be finished," said Zaki.

Zaki is an MP from the northern province of Takhar and a top leader of the Junbish-i-Milli Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement), a predominantly Uzbek militia faction run by General Abdul Rasheed Dostum, a warlord who is an influential figure in the north of the country.

However, well-placed sources in Afghanistan maintained that Rahman's release was the trigger for the start of serious political manoeuvres by the former mujahadeen in parliament.


Contrary to the hopes of Washington, the former mujahadeen managed a strong showing in last September's parliamentary vote and are now looking for a lion's share of power.

The Americans are determined to thwart this and are instead aiming to develop a new leadership which would be indigenous - mainly involving former Afghan royalists - and one that will move away from the influences of neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

Gradual purging has meant there are now hardly any former mujahadeen among the provincial governors, who are mainly liberals, nationalists or former royalists.

Furthermore, in the proposed list of members of the federal cabinet, announced last week, both former Northern Alliance members and former mujahadeen from the south seem to be absent.

The American-backed government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai has chosen a list which gives a voice to all the different ethnic and sectarian groups in Afghanistan but making sure that any figures that were in some way linked to either Iran or Pakistan were removed.

For example, there are four Shiite ministers in the proposed list but for the first time all of them are Hazaras - granting them a share in power they have never enjoyed in the past - and Syed Shiites are absent.

This is a complete turnaround from the ethnic divvying-up of power in the past where non-Hazaras and Syeds were represented in the cabinet.

This is seen as a smart move by the Karzai administration, as it has cut the Iranian connection from Afghan politics while at the same time managed to preserve the rights of the Shiite community in Afghanistan.

Karzai's efforts to curb pro-Iranian or Islamist elements plays to the divisions of Afghanistan's tormented recent history.

However the new cabinet line-up still has to be approved by parliament and this will provide an opportunity for the former mujahadeen to flex their muscles in terms of numbers and alliances.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the communist government in Kabul, Iran supported the Northern Alliance when it was fighting against the Shiite Hazaras. Tehran even issued a religious decree against Hazara Shiites, who were fighting the predominately-Sunni but Tajik-origin Northern Alliance, led by the slain Ahmed Shah Masood.

Masood was killed just two days before the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Non-Hazara Syeds were also part of the Northern Alliance.

Analysts say that more than ideology or religion it is ethnicity that dominates Afghanistan's complex political patchwork.

The Hazaras are the descendants of the great Mongol warrior Genghis Khan and are therefore perceived as being an inferior race to Aryans, be they Tajik or Iranian.


As a result of their exclusion from president Karzai's new cabinet line-up disgruntled Syed Shiites have once again joined forces with the group backed by the Yunus Qanooni - a Tajik veteran of Afghanistan's power struggles and currently president of the lower house - to block the names once the list is presented in the parliament for approval.

The reshuffle has seen a significant erosion of the power of the Northern Alliance.

The dumping of former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, while he was on a visit to Washington, was a further blow, meaning that the Northern Alliances grip in Kabul had all but vanished.

In the south of Afghanistan the strongest leader is so far Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, the chief of Ittahad-i-Islami Afghanistan and the strongest leader of Pashtun origin who was part of the Northern Alliance under Ahmed Shah Masood.

Sayyaf is considered a religious hardliner and the American-backed Karzai administration is not ready to give him any share in the power. Former royalists are touted as favourites to substitute the Islamists to represent the southern Pashtun belt.

Sources said that the speaker of the national assembly Yunus Qanooni, ex-Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf as well as pro-Iranian leaders Alimi Balkhi and Asif Mohsini are in the forefront, keen to enforce thier positions and roles in the cabinet.

The Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan led by Khalid Farooqui, which emerged as the single largest party in the parliament, has however decided to keep a low profile.

Outside the parliamentary process, Taliban members and fighters loyal to wanted warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are, from their southern stronghold, watching closely developments in Kabul.


While all the political forces were realigning to form a government in which the former mujahadeen appeared to be losing power, along came the case of the Christian convert Abdul Rahman, a blessing in disguise for the hardliners.

Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf played a big role in the case. The only anti-Taliban Pashtun leader to be part of the Northern Alliance, he is known as a hardliner and its reported that he formed his party, Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, with Saudi backing.

The Afghan judiciary has remained under the complete control of an element which is loyal to Sayyaf, including the the Chief Justice of the Afghan Supreme Court. The case of Abdul Rahman has reminded Karzai of just how important Sayyaf is in the future setup of the country. Sources said that despite the release of Abdul Rahman, Sayyaf's connections in the judiciary will remain.

The pro-Iranians, Asif Mohsini and Alimi Balkhi, immediately took the forefront in the demonstrations against Rahman's release. By mobilising the masses throughout northern Afghanistan they were reminding the Americans that the Syeds are the most important influence among Shiites in Afghanistan and Iran-hostile Hazaras will never be able to take on significant positions within Afghan politics.

As the crowds rallied, both the speaker of the parliament Yunus Qanooni and former president and influential Tajik figure Rabbani put pressure on Karzai to regain their lost influence in the federal cabinet. The silent and spiritual presence of Iran is strongly felt throughout northern Afghanistan.

At the same time, away from the cities like Kabul and Jalalabad, forces loyal to the Taliban regime and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the warlord still in hiding, have started distributing religious edicts all over the Pashtun heartland, calling on people to rise up against the foreign armies in Afghanistan and save the country from becoming a Christian state.

So while the battle for power in Afghanistan is strongly rooted in recent bloodshed, the case of a Christian convert has given power struggles by influential figures a chance to flourish.
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