Former Afghan MP breaks hunger strike

AP News
Posted: Oct 19, 2011 11:44 AM
Former Afghan MP breaks hunger strike

A former Afghan lawmaker on Wednesday ended a more than 2-week-long hunger strike over her removal from office following an appeal from one of the country's most revered elders to call off her protest.

Simeen Barakzai had vowed to abstain from food and drink until the government investigated vote fraud allegations stemming from the parliamentary elections that took place more than a year ago. Her strike was one in a string of protests, accusations and investigations that have delayed parliament's work and threatened to undermine the legislature's legitimacy.

On Wednesday, the 18th day of her hunger strike, Barakzai ate three spoonfuls of soup, fed to her by Subghatullah Mujaddedi, a prominent official who briefly served as Afghanistan's president in 1992 and more recently as the head of the upper house of parliament. Barakzai's father, brothers and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak looked on, visibly relieved as she ate. She was later fed additional spoonfuls by her father after television cameramen complained they didn't get clear shots of her ending the hunger strike.

Mujaddedi offered Barakzai his seat as head of the upper house _ a post to which he was appointed by President Hamid Karzai but which is now held by someone else because of Mujaddedi's advanced age.

"If your seat in the lower house was taken from you, I have a seat for you in the upper house," Mujaddedi told her. "I'm ready to give it to you."

Barakzai's protest had become a symbol of defiance against rampant corruption in Afghanistan and the country's troubled political scene.

At first, she appeared to agree to his offer, nodding her head. But moments later, she made clear that her quest was for justice, not a seat in parliament.

"My hunger strike was because they broke the law," she said, referring to the allegations of vote fraud she leveled against the woman who took her seat. "It was for those poor people who were raising their voices."

The dispute had sharply hampered the legislature's ability to work. The parliament is widely viewed as one of the few counterweights to Karzai.

Afghan election officials have said they will stand by their decision to remove Barakzai and eight other lawmakers from office after a review of election results. But a committee appointed by Karzai is continuing the investigation and Mujaddedi vowed that he would follow up on its work.

"God willing, you end this hunger strike and I will help you," Mujaddedi told Barakzai as she lay in bed in a Kabul military hospital, an intravenous drip attached to her arm.

It was unclear whether Mujaddedi could actually give the seat to Barakzai since another man was currently filling the post. But the former president who also heads the National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, a body charged with national reconciliation, insisted that his seat in the upper house was vacant as he hadn't resigned.

He later said he would discuss the issue with Karzai and vowed to follow up on the investigation.

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The political dispute is but one of the many problems confronting Afghanistan, which is still struggling for some semblance of stability and normalcy 10 years after a U.S.-led invasion to drive the Taliban from power.

While the parliament grapples with fractious politics, NATO and its Afghan counterparts are embroiled in a fierce battle against the Taliban and allied insurgent groups _ a battle the international coalition hopes to pass on to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 when their combat forces are withdrawn.

On Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed two NATO service members in eastern Afghanistan, the alliance said without providing additional details. The deaths raised to 471 the number of NATO troops killed so far this year in the country.

Afghanistan's east is rife with insurgent activity and the top NATO commander in the country said the alliance had recently launched an operation in the area targeting the powerful Haqqani network, a group that operates from within Pakistan.

Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb exploded killed five Afghan soldiers in the Pashtun Zarghun district of Herat, said Mohyaddin Noori, the spokesman for the province's governor. Noori said the five were ferrying food back to the base when blast took place.


Associated Press writer Tarek El-Tablawy contributed to this report.