Afghanistan: warlords dominate new parliament

US Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Afghanistan today to attend the inauguration of the country’s first Parliament in more than 30 years and visit US troops. Cheney joined President Hamid Karzai and other dignitaries at a ceremony to swear in parliamentarians elected in September in the first parliamentary elections in Afghanistan since 1969. (AFP, Dec. 19)

But Human Rights Watch issued the following press release warning of a dark side to this ostensible move towards democracy:

On Monday, Afghanistan’s first democratically elected parliament in more than three decades will convene in Kabul. But many of the new legislators, including up to 60% of deputies in the lower house, are directly or indirectly connected to current and past human rights abuses.

In the upper house, where one-third of the seats are appointed by President Hamid Karzai, new appointees linked to serious human rights abuses include:

Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former defense minister and vice president in Karzai’s government, is allegedly linked to war crimes and serious human rights abuses committed in the 1990s.

Arsala Rahmani, a former high-level [figure] in the Taliban’s religious affairs ministry, imposed severe restrictions of basic freedoms, particularly for women.

Sher Mohammed Akhunzada, currently governor of Helmand province, is linked to recent abuses committed by forces under his control, including private prisons.

Sam Zarifi, Asia research director at Human Rights Watch, is in Kabul to monitor growing insecurity, particularly in southern Afghanistan.

“The international community will try to portray the opening of parliament as a triumph,” Zia-Zarifi said. “But many Afghans are worried about a parliament dominated by human rights abusers.” (HRW, Dec. 17 via RAWA)

See our last post on Afghanistan.