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Beating Sparks Outcry Against Militia Commanders In Afghan Government

KABUL -- When news broke of a suicide bombing at an international military complex in Kabul last month, local police officer Mohammad Ismail was promptly dispatched to the scene.

Ismail's orders were to prevent traffic from entering the area and to redirect locals to safety. But not long after arriving with several other officers, a black SUV with tinted windows approached the checkpoint. Ismail refused the driver's request to be allowed to pass through and repeatedly told him to turn around.

In a matter of seconds, Ismail says, a number of men brandishing AK-47s stepped out of the vehicle.

The armed men -- bodyguards for parliament deputy and former militia commander Haji Zahir Qadir -- cursed and then attacked Ismail as his fellow officers fled the scene.

After picking the injured Ismail up from the side of the road, local residents delivered the 28-year-old officer to a hospital.

"For no reason, they grabbed me by the shirt and attacked me," he said. "One of them told the other bodyguards to attack me. I was surrounded by the bodyguards, who pressed their guns against my side, chest, and back. I looked back and saw that they had released the safeties on their guns. One of them hit me on the shoulder. After that, I can't remember what happened."

Social-Media Backlash

The assault on Ismail, which occurred on November 21 in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district, has caused an uproar against Qadir and triggered a backlash against the presence of former militia leaders who are now in government. Anger spread after pictures of the assault went viral on social-media sites.

The outcry prompted the Afghan Interior Ministry to launch an investigation on November 23 and detain Qadir's bodyguards. But just a week later, on December 1, the guards were promptly freed after Qadir and several other lawmakers visited Ismail's precinct and personally apologized to him.

In a statement issued on the day of the visit, the Interior Ministry quoted Qadir as saying he regretted the behavior of his guards and vowed it would never happen again.

For the ministry's part, it simply warned politicians not to intervene in police business. "Political figures should not create problems for Afghan security forces during sensitive situations in the city and should instead assist them," the ministry statement read.

Despite the apology, the head of the Kabul police department's crimes investigation unit, General Mohammad Zaher, said on December 2 that he would refer the case to the Attorney-General's Office. Zaher also said he planned to press charges against Ismail's colleagues who fled the scene.

Powerful Militia Leaders

Ismail, who is still recovering from the injuries he sustained, reluctantly accepted the apology. But he says the incident is symptomatic of the significant power and influence wielded by the country's former militia leaders, including Qadir, who was a senior commander in the Northern Alliance.

The former strongmen, who once waged war against the ruling Taliban as leaders of the mujahedin, still exert significant influence on the country's political affairs.

Many Afghans view former militia commanders who have carved out high-ranking roles within the government as war criminals, and have accused them of using their power to extort money, grab land, and attack their opponents.

Ismail, an officer with the 10th District Force in Kabul, believes the attack should not been seen as one against him, but against the entire country. "When my police cap and badge fell on the ground, I couldn't even pick it up [out of shame]," he says. "More importantly, when my badge was disrespected so was the Interior Ministry, the security commander in Kabul, and the Afghan president himself."

On social-media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, the response has been equally critical.

Shafiqa Ahmadi, who commented on Facebook, referred to Qadir and other former militia leaders in the government as "criminals," and said the incident showed that many of them think they are above the law.

"Who gives these warlords, who are traitors and thieves, the right to attack and almost kill a member of our security forces?" Ahmadi wrote. "Why does the Interior Ministry protect these fundamentalists instead of protecting the police who have been attacked? If the government does not act we will seek action."

Another Facebook user, Ahmad Seir Nassiri, criticized the Interior Ministry, which oversees the national police force, for taking the side of "criminals" instead of an officer who was merely following orders.

"If we have a system which cannot defend its own police," Nassiri wrote, "then how can it defend people in our country? Shame to all those in the Interior Ministry."

Written by Frud Bezhan based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Sayed Sabawoon in Kabul
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.