Afghan Demonstrators Call for Wide Amnesty Former Afghan mujahedeen and several thousand of their supporters held an unprecedented protest at Kabul's National Stadium to criticize the central government and the United States for turning their backs on their one-time allies.
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Afghan Demonstrators Call for Wide Amnesty

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Afghan Demonstrators Call for Wide Amnesty

Afghan Demonstrators Call for Wide Amnesty

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Former mujaheeden leaders and warlords held a rally in Afghanistan. They're demanding that President Hamid Karzai grant amnesty to them and to other Afghans accused of war crimes.

As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, the demonstration in Kabul had an anti-American and anti-Western flavor.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The thousands of Afghan men and boys who packed Kabul National Stadium were jubilant.

(Soundbite of stadium)

SARHADDI NELSON: After all, the leaders of their country's holy warriors, or mujaheeden, were back together in public for the first time in years. Dressed in bright robes and turbans native to their tribes, the former leaders and warlords smiled and waved at the crowds in the bleachers, and called on them to stand up to the enemy - except this time the enemy isn't Soviet invaders or the Taliban. Today, it's Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United States that former mujahedeen leaders like Abdul Rab Rasul Sayaff see as their target.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Mr. ABDUL RAB RASUL SAYYAF (Former Mujahedeen Leader, Afghanistan): (Through translator) Even now, the internal and foreign enemies are waiting to ambush the security, peace, and stability of the country. Those who gained advantage from our crisis are against peace and reconciliation and friendship.

NELSON: But Sayaff and others stop short of openly naming the enemies, even as some protesters chanted death to America. Nor did the former leaders - many of whom are now lawmakers - call for armed rebellion. Instead, their goal appears to be to pressure Karzai into giving them more power at a time when his government is weakened by a resurgent Taliban. Protesters like Abdul Rasheed(ph), a 21-year-old shopkeeper, say they are ready to fight to bring the mujahedeen back to power.

Mr. ABDUL RASHEED (Shopkeeper, Afghanistan): (Through translator) Basically, the United States keeps accusing the mujahedeen through groups like Human Rights Watch. But we are united and committed to defending the mujahedeen. They're the ones who should defend our country. They're the ones who defeated the Soviets.

NELSON: As a first step, they want Karzai to approve an amnesty for all Afghans involved in the decades of bloodshed here. Both Houses of parliament recently approved the proposal, saying it is the only way to restore peace and stability to Afghanistan. But many Afghans, as well as human rights groups, oppose any blanket amnesty. They say warlords, the Taliban and everyone else in Afghanistan with blood on their hands must answer for the millions of people who have been killed, maimed and displaced.

The protesters say that's hypocritical. They argue that Ahmed Shah Masoud, who led resistance against Soviet forces and later the Taliban, is revered as a hero six years after he was assassinated by al-Qaida. So why, they say, condemn Afghan leaders who fought along side him? Protester Rasul Husseini(ph) adds that disarming warlords and sidelining them politically as Karzai did under U.S. pressure was a mistake.

Mr. RASUL HUSSEINI (Afghan Protester): (Through translator) All the people of Afghanistan are mujahedeen. This message should not only go to Karzai. It should go to the United Nations.

NELSON: Whether Karzai will approve the blanket amnesty is unclear. His office says he's reviewing the proposal. He told NPR earlier this month that he was against giving amnesty to criminals.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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