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Afghanistan - Mohaqeq interview

Hazara leader defends Karzai alliance

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-08-19 Latest update 2009-08-21 14:50 TU

Mohammad Mohaqeq(Photo: Tony Cross)

Mohammad Mohaqeq
(Photo: Tony Cross)

If Afghan President Hamid Karzai owes his likely re-election as much to his ability to win influential allies as to his record in office, Mohammad Mohaqeq must be one of his bigger catches. Mohaqeq is an MP and a Hazara, a traditionally underprivileged ethnic group.

Interview: Mohammad Mohaqeq, Kabul

19/08/2009 by Tony Cross

Mohaqeq came third in the last presidential election in 2004, so his decision not to stand this time leaves a fair number of votes going begging.

And the Hazaras, although they are a minority and an often-despised one, are believed to be about 20 per cent of the electorate and Mohaqeq, who fought the Soviet occupation, is seen as one of their leaders.

The alliance was far from guaranteed. Mohaqeq was a minister in Karzai’s government at one time but left amid some recrimination. And another Hazara, Ramzan Bashardost, is standing and doing surprisingly well.

As is the case at the homes of almost all well-known Afghans, armed guards man the gate of Mohaqeq’s large house in an ethnically mixed part of Kabul. He receieves visitors – and many phone calls – in a vast living room with curtains drawn against the scorching sun.

Phone calls over, he insists that nothing could be more natural than the decision of his Wahdat-e-Islami party backing a Pashtun for the presidency. ‘‘In order to have a stable and secure Afghanistan we decided to support Mr Karzai in this election,’’ he says.

He doesn’t seem best pleased, however, when asked to respond to other candidates’ charges that the President deals with crooks and warlords. ‘‘What do you mean by corrupt people?’’ he asks, ‘‘Who are they? Can you give me an example of whom?’’

Practically all the candidates opposing Karzai accuse him of cosying up to warlords and associating with people, including his own brother, who are corrupt and/or have interests in the heroin trade.

A leaflet distributed by Abdullah goes so far as to claim that Karzai himself has a 45-million-dollar fortune which he refuses to account for. The mention of Abdullah’s name brings a sharp response. ‘‘Such things that are made up by Abdullah and his team, they are not very interesting,’’ he says.

‘‘Because when we look at their previous violations, in the 1970s, all the places that are destroyed in Kabul are the result of the works of Mr Abdullah and his team.’’ If Mohaqeq has no time for Abdullah Abdullah, he is dismissive of Bashardost. ‘‘He doesn’t seem to be a normal person,’’ he sneers, without expanding on the alleged abnormality.

‘‘God made him that way.’’

Most Hazaras are Shia-Muslims. Karzai’s approval of a law governing marital relations for Shias was widely seen as a move to win the support of conservative Shia clerics and community leaders. The law has been amended now. Its most notorious clause, which was denounced as endorsing rape within marriage, has been removed.

Some foreign human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, still claim that it oppresses women. But Afghan women’s rights campaigners, such as Seema Samir, believe that it has been substantially approved and is a step forward in relieving the Shia of the obligation of following Sunni-Muslim practises.

Mohaqeq agrees the changes were necessary, while saying that it ‘‘wasn’t clear’’ that it endorsed marital rape. ‘‘A law was passed that was in violation of human rights,’’ he says. ‘’But that law was rectified. Now it’s fine. And he denies that signing the bill into law had anything to do with the President’s electoral ambitions. ‘

‘It was legislation and I don’t think it had anything to do with the election. I don’t think it played any role. ‘‘But, of course, I can say that all the facilities that were provided for the Shia people during the time that Karzai has been president … Yes, of course, we use all those in our campaigns for Karzai.’’

The priorities Mohaqeq sets for the next President are pretty much everybody’s priorities, with the absence of any mention of fighting corruption and rooting out warlords. ‘‘The first priority is to provide security, very balanced development and fighting against narcotics.’’

And he is most specific when it comes to the details of development. ‘‘I would like Mr Karzai, once he wins the election, to take care of the roads, to do construction, to reconstruct all the places that were destroyed in the war, rehabilitate hospitals, clinics, schools, so people can enjoy them.’’

The streets that surround his spacious home still bear the marks of the internecine struggles that succeeded the Soviet occupation. A huge bakery remains idle. Hundreds of buildings are missing a top floor, while many more are still flattened after 20 years. Children in rags work amid the frenetic traffice or beg from passers-by.

There is plenty of development to be done.