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Last Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005, 11:31 GMT
Warlords and women in uneasy mix

By Andrew North
BBC News, Kabul

Defeated candidates campaign in Kabul
Election results were delayed because of fraud allegations
It should be no surprise that Afghanistan's first parliament in more than 30 years looks set to be one of the world's more colourful and controversial assemblies.

Former mujahideen commanders, alleged opium barons and ex-Taleban figures, including Mullah Rocketi, famed for his past fighting skills, will sit alongside large numbers of women politicians, one of whom says many of her fellow MPs should be on trial for war crimes.

It looks like a combustible mix. And one many Afghans are not happy about.

"I do not trust them. Most of them are warlords and drugs dealers," said Ghafour Ahmad, a shopkeeper in central Kabul.

He voted for Ramazan Bashardost, a former minister whose outspoken campaign against what he says is widespread misspending by international organisations won him third place in Kabul, beating many established political figures.

Mr Bashardost struck a chord among Afghans frustrated at the slow pace of change. He is one to watch in the new assembly.

But with the release of the last results from September's elections over the weekend, delayed by checking fraud allegations, many Afghan political watchers and diplomats here say the parliament that's emerged is what President Hamid Karzai wanted.

Approval needed

Despite their varied backgrounds, it is thought a clear majority of the new MPs back President Karzai.

That matters because he will have to get their approval for his legislation and ministerial appointments.

Malalai Joya
Criminals are criminals... if they killed our people they should be on trial
Malalai Joya,
Female deputy

Many who won seats in the 249-member lower house are President Karzai's fellow Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. They are also likely to dominate the 102-seat upper house (Meshrano Jirga) when that is formed.

Ethnic and tribal affiliations remain key here.

Large numbers of the former Mujahideen commanders who are MPs are Karzai supporters, among them Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf, who human rights groups say should face war crimes charges.

A staunch Islamic conservative, he is thought to be planning a bid to become parliamentary speaker.

Former Taleban figure Abdul Salaam Rocketi, who has reconciled with the government, is also in the Karzai camp.

By contrast, "the proportion of MPs who are anti-Karzai and anti-system is low," said one western official, who followed the election process closely but cannot speak publicly.

Another reason why many say the situation suits Mr Karzai is that political parties are weak in the new body.

Afghanistan's history of factional fighting has left him deeply suspicious of party formations. He deliberately chose a voting system for the 18 September elections that worked against them.

Most candidates ran as independents, although many still received undeclared backing from party factions.

But no one can tell how things will work when the parliament sits for the first time next month.

It could be a very fractious body.

'Women untainted'

There are fears among many Afghan intellectuals and liberals that the parliament has an inbuilt conservative Islamic majority and that this will lead to greater restrictions on the media and in other areas.

Ramazan Bashardost
Bashardost appealed to those wanting faster change

But standing against them, many Afghans hope, will be 68 women MPs. They give Afghanistan one of the highest proportions of female parliamentarians in the world.

Many men said they voted for female candidates because they regarded them as being untainted by the past.

One of the more outspoken is Malalai Joya, who won in the western province of Farah province. She was already famous after speaking out against the alleged crimes of mujahideen leaders at the 2003 meeting that decided on Afghanistan's constitution. Now she will be sitting with these same people.

But she is sticking to her position. "Criminals are criminals," she told the BBC.

"Communists, mujahideen or Taleban, if they killed our people, they should be on trial."

She says she is concerned that many of those who have won seats are "hiding under the flag of democracy, but they don't believe in it."

Although there is much scepticism about this new parliament, both within and without, some still argue that it could surprise. It is under pressure to do what parliaments are supposed to do.

"The mood out there is much more anti-government," said one diplomat. "The new parliament will have to be seen to be listening to that."

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