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Afghanistan: Candidate Killing Sparks Protests, Accusations

Vote counting continues in Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan, a candidate for the national People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) from the northern Balkh Province, was gunned down along with one of his bodyguards on 27 September as he drove from a vote-counting station in Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh's provincial capital. Soon after his death, the neo-Taliban claimed responsibility for having killed Ramazan, who was poised to win one of the province's 11 seats in the lower house.

But despite that claim by the neo-Taliban, Ramazan's supporters, many of whom are from the Hazara community in Mazar-e Sharif, began protesting and accusing Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Nur of involvement in the assassination. The protesters, reportedly as many as 1,000 people, tried to block the main road linking Balkh and points south, including the capital Kabul.

By 3 October, protests against Ramazan's murder had reached Kabul's Hazara community in numbers estimated at around 4,000. The same day, the Afghan Interior Ministry dispatched 300 rapid-reaction troops to Balkh to aid local police and military units in quelling the disorder in Mazar-e Sharif.

During a ceremony held to mourn Ramazan in Kabul on 3 October, some in the crowd demanded that Ramazan's brother, Ahmad Shah Ramazan, be allowed to occupy the seat that his slain brother -- with almost 60 percent of ballots counted -- appears almost certain to have won.

Charges And Countercharges

Speaking at a news conference in Mazar-e Sharif on 3 October, Governor Nur vehemently denied any involvement in Ramazan's death, adding that he had appointed a commission of "influential people" to investigate the killing. Nur said that he was planning to present to the public "photographic evidence" to prove that he had no animosity for the slain candidate. The only problem between Ramazan and Nur was over the former's "grabbing [of] government assets," Nur said, without providing details.

Nur described the allegations against him by protesters as "irresponsible." But he reserved harsher language for former Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq, who reportedly has also accused Nur of involvement in Ramazan's death. Nur charged that Mohaqeq "has assassinated a lot of intellectuals, and he is a terrorist himself."
While the circumstances of Ramazan's murder have yet to be investigated transparently and fully, it would be unwise to pervert the law with the aim of satisfying any single group's grievances.

Mohaqeq is leader of the Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan, a newly formed party that splintered from the main Wahdat party, and is also a candidate for the People's Council from Kabul Province. While Afghan election procedures prevented any candidate from running under a specific party, Ramazan was affiliated with the Wahdat party, although it is unclear whether or not he had joined Mohaqeq's faction.

With more than 60 percent of the votes counted in Kabul, Mohaqeq leads all candidates and is virtually assured of one of Kabul's 33 seats in the lower house, or People's Council.

Sad Reminder

The war of words between Nur and Mohaqeq, two former mujahedin commanders and former allies against the Taliban, is a sad reminder of Afghanistan's turbulent history since 1992, when the communist government collapsed and former resistance groups turned their guns against each other. More alarming, Ramazan's death and the public reaction that has followed his murder might signal that Afghan politics -- even if conducted on a democratic platform -- remain divided along ethnic lines and might involve violence.

It is unlikely that the only candidate assassination since the 18 September elections was the work of the neo-Taliban or their allies. It is thus particularly important that the Afghan government thoroughly investigate the murder and provide answers that satisfy Ramazan's constituents. But since the demands of Ramazan's supporters might include the granting of his seat to his brother, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) -- and by extension the Afghan government -- faces a dilemma. Afghan electoral law states that if a candidate is unable to assume his or her seat, then that seat belongs to the candidate of the same gender with the next-highest number of votes. While the circumstances of Ramazan's murder have yet to be investigated transparently and fully, it would be unwise to pervert the law with the aim of satisfying any single group's grievances.

For an archive of RFE/RL coverage of the recent elections, along with other background, see our Afghanistan Votes page.