On November 6, 2007 a suicide bombing at a sugar plant in Baghlan killed up to 68 people, making it the “worst suicide bombing in the country since 2001”. 1 Among the dead were at least 18 schoolchildren, four teachers and six members of Parliament.
It is widely believed that the Taliban orchestrated the attack; however they have since denied any participation. Suspicions also fall on Hizb-I Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), a terrorist organization active in Eastern Afghanistan (especially the Baghlan region) and the tribal areas in Western Pakistan. HIG has been waging a battle with the National Government independent from the Taliban and are likely suspects in the attack.2 Two lawmakers previoulsy affiliated with the outlaw Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were conspicuously absent at the time of the blast. Others speculate that followers of Jalaluddin Haqqani could have been involved.
Questions have arisen as to whether this attack was an actual suicide blast. Some believe, due to the level of devastation, that it could have been a vehicle or pre-planted explosive. Most suicide bombings do not include such high levels of destruction as was seen in this one. Equally compelling, is the fact that the device appears to have contained a large number of ball bearings, leading many to originally conclude that small arms were also involved in the attack. 3 While the investigation is ongoing, it is not likely to provide comfort to Afghan citizens, of whom rumors of conspiracy are circulating in the light of fear and uncertainty, one of which includes the United National Front (UNF) involved in an apparent power play.4
Violence this year has been the deadliest since the ousting of the Taliban. Between 6200 - 8000 people, mostly Taliban militants, have been killed this year in insurgency related violence in Afghanistan according to BBC monitoring figures.
Below is a list of the six parliamentary members killed in the bombing.5
Haji Mohammad Arif Zarif was a Pashtun and a representative from Kabul. We believe he was politically connected to Sayyaf and his Islamic Call political party. He was pro-Karzai and supported the Coalition. Zarif was a wealthy businessman and philanthropist. Zarif served on the Lower House's Economic Committee. Zarif was a graduate of Kabul's Military Academy.
Sayed Mustafa Kazemi was a Hazara from Parwan province.6 He was a Northern Alliance Commander allied with Massoud after 1992. He was Minister of Commerce from 2002 to 2005. In 2005, he was elected to the Lower House as a representative from Kabul. He was a leader in parliament, chair the Economic Committee, and spokesman of the United Front opposition party. He also led his own political party, National Strength. While highly critical of Karzai's administration, he insisted that he and the United Front intended to work within the constitution to either change Karzai's policies or stand up a strong challenger in the 2010 election.
Eng. Abdul Mateen was a Pashtun and a former communist from the Barakzai tribe who represented Helmand province in Parliament. In the past, Mateen was a top commander in the Khalq faction of the Communist party. He was recently Deputy of the Economic Commission. A wealthy businessman, he was rumored to have bought votes in order to win his seat. Mateen was highly critical of U.S. policy especially regarding civilian casualties and military operations
Sibghatullah Zaki was an Uzbek originally from Takhar. He was the son of a prominent Jihadi commander, who is believed to have been killed by Hekmatyar. At one time, Zaki had a strong relationship with General Dostum and Junbesh, and was the Junbesh spokesman in Pakistan during the jihad, where he had frequent contact with top U.S. officials. He had distanced himself from politics over the last year and was publishing a small paper, but has recently joined up with moderate Uzbeks to try to gain control of Junbesh. Zaki and a group of prominent Uzbeks intended to either gain control of Junbesh or form a new Uzbek political party. Zaki was highly critical of the Karzai government, but said he did not have a relationship with the United Front.
Al Haj Saheburahman was a Pashtun originally from the Mushwarnay tribe of the Shigal district in Nothern Konar. He was a commander against the Soviets in Konar, and it was believed he switched sides to the Taliban with his political backer Malik Zarin after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. While loyal to Karzai, he remained an opportunist with personal intentions. Given Heckmaytayer’s influence in Konar, he was likely to have HIG contacts. Saheburahman was critical of the PRT but focused on the future. He served on the National Economy Committee.
Nazukmir Sarferaz was a Pashtun member of parliament from Kunduz. Sarferaz worked in trade with Tajikistan, and was believed to have been one of the richest men in the province. He had close contacts with Tajik Mujahideen, who he may have supported financially. He was not politically active or outspoken, but we believe he supported Karzai. He served on the National Economic Committee.
According to Article 108 of the Constitution, the six deceased parliamentarians will need to be replaced with a new election:
“In cases of death, resignation, or dismissal of a member of the Wolesi Jirga, and / or disability or handicap, which prevents performance of duties permanently, election in the related constituency is held for a new representative for the rest of the legislative period, in accordance with the law.”
If the rules had followed the same framework as those put in place during the lead-up to the 2005 parliamentary elections, the person who received the next most votes would fill in and replace the deceased member. Instead, the affected provinces will have to hold snap elections under the threat of resurgent violence.
Ultimately the effects of the Baghlan bombing result in not only a loss of confidence in the security situation in Afghanistan, but a very expensive election campaign for the international community and a rise in associated security concerns pending a new election. To illustrate this judgment, in 2005, over 40 million ballots were printed; 15 flights of Antonov 124 airplanes – the second largest cargo plane in the world – and eight flights of Boeing 747 cargo planes carried 1,142 tons of ballots into Kabul over the course of three weeks. 60,000 security officials were needed and 160,000 polling station officials were trained in preparation for the election. According to the JEMBS, “preparations for Election Day presented a tremendous logistical challenge”. In addition to aerial support, cargo-trucks, donkeys, camels and horses were requisitioned in order to deliver ballots and supplies for the election.7
The total estimated cost for Parliamentary Elections in the five provinces are as follows:
Total number of registered voters: 2,817,070
JEMB estimated cost per registered voter: $14.00 USD
Total estimated cost for 2005 parliamentary elections: $39,438,980.00 USD
Against rising security concerns, it is apparent that a new election to fill the now empty seats in parliament will be a costly and risky venture. If events go as planned, the replacement of the murdered parliamentarians could be a public relations coup for the Karzai government. A speedy election, free of violence, would show that democracy in Afghanistan has taken root and is providing the people with a stable and dependable democracy. But should the elections encounter any serious problems, the opponents of democracy in Afghanistan, including warlords and Taliban, will have more fodder for their own nefarious purposes.
For democracy to work, it is essential that the international community and the Afghan government ensure elections are held in a timely manner. The Taliban and other armed gangs in Afghanistan have no doubt noticed, this was an extremely costly bombing for the allies. Not only was national prestige affected by the death of six national lawmakers, but another province where the security situation was relatively "safe" must step up countermeasures, involving more manpower and funds. The international community can not allow terrorism to hold back the will of the Afghan people to have free and fair elections. A US$ 40 million price tag must not dampen the enthusiasm of coalition partners. To pause at this point, is to take a step backwards in the process of development. The international community must rally behind Afghanistan’s efforts to hold onto their democracy.