Gov't-friendly tribal elder killed
KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents on motorbikes shot and killed a tribal elder in northern Afghanistan who had resisted Taliban in the region and who planned to attend an upcoming government-organized peace conference, officials and family members said today.
Elder Horal Mohammad Zabet was watching over his flock of grazing sheep with his son Saturday when about 15 gunmen on motorbikes drove up and surrounded Zabet.
"They started shooting from two directions at my father. He took out his gun and fired back at them, but after 20 minutes of shooting he was dead," said the son, Abdul Qayum Halimi. He tried to call for help but it was about 6 p.m. — the time that Taliban shut off phone service in the area — so he couldn't get through to anyone.
Zabet, a former mujahedeen fighter against the Soviets, was the leader of about 100,000 families in Dawlat Abad district of Faryab province.
"He was against the Taliban and always arguing for reconstruction and development projects," said Mohammad Afzal Imanzada, the deputy police chief of the province. "He wanted peace in his district and never allowed the Taliban to come and collect tithes."
The killing was carried out by known Taliban militants and ordered by the province's "shadow governor" — an official appointed by the Taliban to oversee a region, Imanzada said, citing police intelligence reports. Two other people were wounded in the attack, he added.
In the August presidential election, Zabet recruited about 60 young men and 20 elders to protect polling stations in Dawlat Abad, Halimi said. Imanzada confirmed that they had called on Zabet to help with polling station security — making it possible for people to vote amid threats of violence from the Taliban.
Recently, Zabet had received an invitation to attend the upcoming peace conference in the capital and planned to attend, Halimi said. The meeting, organized by President Hamid Karzai, aims to bring together tribal elders and community leaders to discuss ways to end the war.
Karzai plans to unfold his program for peace overtures to the Taliban during the meeting, but the insurgent group has said it will not consider reconciling with the government as long international forces are present in the country.
The jirga, or traditional meeting of elders, has also run into snags among its supporters. Originally scheduled for early May, it has been postponed twice. It was first pushed back after Karzai's visit earlier this month to Washington, where he discussed his peace plans with Obama and other top U.S. officials.
Conference spokesman Gul Agha Ahmedi said Monday that it would now be held on June 2, to allow the nominations for an upcoming parliamentary election to finish and to give delegates from remote districts more time to arrive.
No Taliban leaders are expected to attend but some of the delegates may include people sympathetic to the insurgents.
The Obama administration supports economic and other incentives to individual insurgents willing to give up the struggle and abandon al-Qaida. But Washington is skeptical of peace talks with the Taliban leadership, hoping to first weaken the militants on the battlefield.
In the west, meanwhile, five Afghan civilians were killed when their minivan hit a roadside bomb in Farah province Monday, the Interior Ministry said. Eight people were also wounded, and many of them are in serious condition.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.