Afghan lawmakers squabble in first full legislative session
Car bomb hits NATO vehicle in city of Herat
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The first full session of Afghanistan's new parliament almost broke down yesterday after a lawmaker demanded that authorities bring to justice all warlords, some of whom are delegates.
Underscoring threats to the fledgling democracy, a purported statement forwarded to The Associated Press from fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar called the parliament ''fake," and a suicide bombing wounded three Italian peacekeepers and three civilians.
The NATO peacekeepers were on their way to the airport in the western city of Herat when the bomber's car pulled up next to theirs and exploded, said the city's police chief, General Mohammad Ayub Salangi. One of the wounded civilians, a woman, was in critical condition.
The attack took place as the national assembly convened its first working session in the capital, Kabul, a day after it was inaugurated in an emotional ceremony. Good feelings quickly gave way to a stormy debate over procedural matters as well as the potentially explosive issue of warlords sitting among the elected representatives.
One delegate, Malali Joya, called for all of Afghanistan's human rights abusers and ''criminal warlords" to be brought to justice. Delegates responded by pounding their fists on the tables to demand she sit down. But she refused, shouting that it was her right as an elected official to speak her mind.
Another delegate, Sayed Mubat Shah, appealed for calm.
''We have a big responsibility," he said. ''We all have equal rights. We are the voice of the Afghan people."
Among those in the parliament with allegedly bloody pasts are Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a militia leader accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch, and Abdul Salaam Rocketi, a former Taliban commander who has since reconciled with the government.
The Legislature has been criticized for including many regional strongmen, raising concerns over whether it can truly be a positive political force.
The popularly elected parliament marked Afghanistan's final step in its transition to democracy after US-led forces ousted the hard-line Taliban regime four years ago for sheltering Osama bin Laden. The country has had no elected national assembly since 1973, after which coups and a Soviet invasion plunged it into decades of chaos that killed than 1 million people. That period was followed by the rule of the Islamic extremist Taliban militia.
A written statement, purportedly from Mullah Omar and forwarded to the AP in Pakistan by e-mail yesterday, condemned the parliament and claimed the Taliban rebellion was strengthening.
''Now a fake parliament has come into being, inaugurated by the American Vice President Dick Cheney," the statement said.
Cheney attended the parliament's inauguration during a brief visit Monday.
''It is now clear to everyone that Afghans did not give up their struggle despite those fake processes, and their resistance is gaining strength and has spread to every part of the country," the statement said.
The statement was distributed by Mohammed Hanif, who claims to speak for the rebels, though his ties to the Taliban leadership are unclear. The statement's authenticity could not be confirmed independently.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced yesterday that US troop levels in Afghanistan will be reduced by about 3,500 next spring as a result of increased NATO forces and a growing Afghan army. It will be the first major reduction in US troop strength here since late last year.