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Helmand Buries Politician Killed in Suicide Blast

While five members of parliament killed in a devastating attack were buried in Kabul, the sixth, Engineer Abdul Matin, was laid to rest in his home province.
By IWPR Afghanistan
The wailing of mourners could be heard all through the ancient village of Qala-ye-Bost, where hundreds had gathered to pay their respects to the body of Engineer Abdul Matin, a local member of parliament killed by a massive suicide bomb in northern Afghanistan last week.

Matin and five other members of the Afghan parliament were among dozens of people killed in the November 6 attack. The investigation is still ongoing, but preliminary results suggest that a suicide bomber blew himself up while the visiting politicians were meeting a group of local schoolchildren at Baghlan’s sugar factory.

The final death toll may never be known, but officials put the number of dead at close to 60, with 150 injured, making this one of the bloodiest attacks since the fall of the Taleban in 2001.

There is no shortage of suspects, but the Taleban, who often rush to take responsibility for incidents of this kind, denied involvement. Qari Yusuf, spokesman for the Taleban in southern Afghanistan, told IWPR that he condemned the attack and grieved for the victims.

Some point to Hezb-e Islami, the political faction headed by radical Islamic strongman Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which has a strong power-base in Baghlan. A Hezb-e-Islami spokesman has denied that the group was behind the mayhem.

Others are convinced that the central government orchestrated the explosion to rid itself of a prominent opposition politician, Mustafa Kazemi, who was among the dead. Kazemi was spokesman for the Jabha-ye Motahed-e Milli or United National Front, a loose affiliation of political groups in opposition to the government of President Hamed Karzai.

Still others suggest that the United National Front itself could have had something to do with the bombing, since the group has reportedly been suffering from serious internal disputes.

But while analysts trade allegations and suspicions, the victims’ families have buried their dead.

President Hamed Karzai declared a three-day mourning period, and held an official memorial ceremony for the slain parliamentarians in front of the Darulaman Palace, the site of the legislature’s new building. Five of the six members of parliament were laid to rest in front of the palace on November 8, amid tight security.

But Engineer Abdul Matin, who represented Helmand province, was buried back in his native village. Despite intense pressure from Kabul, including a personal telephone call from the president, his relatives refused to allow the burial to take place elsewhere.

Initially, the plan was that Matin’s remains would be flown to Helmand for a funeral service, then returned to Kabul to be buried alongside those of his colleagues. His casket arrived on a military helicopter on October 8 and was met by assembled dignitaries.

But once the body was in Helmand, Matin’s family refused to allow it to leave, and the funeral went ahead in Qala-ye-Bost.

The funeral cortege, which included Helmand governor Assadullah Wafa and a host of other provincial officials, was surrounded by military vehicles as it made its way down the bumpy, five kilometre cobblestone road that links Lashkar Gah with Qala-ye-Bost. Every 20 metres, police with guns and grenade-launchers surveyed the surrounding area.

The governor left the procession at Qala-ye-Bost, but the convoy continued down a narrow path to where the Arghandab and Helmand rivers converge. Cries and screams could be heard from a house at the end of the lane.

As Matin’s coffin was carried into the house, an old woman dressed all in black threw herself at it, wailing, “Allah, oh my son! Who has killed you? Why did I not die before you? Oh Allah, Allah.”

Matin’s wife, looking dishevelled and distracted, her clothing torn, seized the hands of those around the coffin, crying, “God punish those who did this! The engineer will never come back!”

Hajji Malik Mohammad Aka, the father of the victim, is so old that he cannot not walk by himself, and had to be carried up to the coffin. He was weeping, and could barely speak. “My son, I told you not to go back there!” he whispered. “Now what can we do?”

Matin’s mother, now some distance from her son’s body, beat her fist on the ground and cursed the government.

“Who killed you, my son?” she screamed. “Karzai! May the same grief enter your own house. You cannot run the government, why do you kill our sons?”

Some family members believed the body should be sent back to Kabul after all. Abdul Qaseem, Matin’s 18-year-old son, said his father should be buried with the other parliamentarians.

“I don’t want my father to be buried here,” he said. “Even though this is our ancestral home, there are certain persons in the region who will not let my father’s tomb lie intact.”

Helmand is at the epicentre of the Taleban insurgency, and government figures have frequently been targeted.

Matin’s nephew, Engineer Abdul Manan, also wanted the body to go back to Kabul.

“My uncle was a good man who always worked for peace. I don’t want his body buried here - the Taleban will blow up his grave,” he said.

But Gul Agha Bawer, Matin’s brother, who had come from Britain to take part in the ceremonies, insisted that the burial must be in Helmand.

“Our whole family is here, and they can pray for his soul. Who do we have in Kabul?” he asked.

The Baghlan attack is likely to have repercussions at a national level. The United National Front has openly accused the government of complicity in the bombing, while others in turn accuse the frontt of trying to undermine the central authority.

Shukria Paikan Ahmadi, a member of parliament from the northern city of Kunduz, spoke out at a press conference, saying, “If this was not the work of the government, then why were there no government officials with the delegation? Their absence makes it clear that the government was involved.”

Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan and a prominent member of the United National Front, was more muted in his condemnation. “The important point about this attack is that it highlights the weakness of security officials. The government should have provided for their security, but it did not think about them.”

Khalid Pashtun, a parliamentarian from Kandahar, turned the accusations back on the United National Front.

“Those who say that the government was involved in the Baghlan attack are against the people of Afghanistan and against the country,” he said. “This is their first step in their plan to break up the nation. I am sure it was the Taleban who carried out this attack. They always deny involvement when there are a lot of civilian casualties.”

Reports from Kabul indicate that members of the United National Front have been trying to stir up the city against the government. Front members have visited schools and asked teachers and pupils to help stage demonstrations, according to some education professionals in the capital.

Parliament has called for the dismissal of the governor of Baghlan, along with his chief of police, head of provincial security, and other officials.

Back in Helmand, the grief was personal and intense.

“This is a great loss for all of Helmand,” said Mahbub Garmseri, another parliamentarian. “Matin was loved throughout the province.”

Matin’s brother, weeping, said, “I told him any times I would bring him to London. I told him he would be killed. But he would not leave. I feel as if someone has cut off my right hand.”

Mohammad Ilyas Dayee is an IWPR staff reporter in Helmand. Wahidullah Amani is IWPR’s lead trainer and reporter in Kabul. Aziz Ahmad Tassal contributed to this report from Helmand.

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