Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Afghanistan policemen killed in Taliban clash

TENSIONS REMAIN Despite the violence, for the first time in over 30 years parliament convenes in Kabul today, but people's views of the future remain uncertain

AP , KANDAHAR, AFP, KABUL

A national army soldier hangs an Afghan national flag on a power supply pole near the site of the Parliament Building in Kabul yesterday. Afghanistan's first parliament after nearly three decades is due meet today in the final step of a transition to democracy launched four years ago.

PHOTO: AFP

More than two dozen suspected Taliban rebels attacked an Afghan police checkpoint on a main highway in southern Afghanistan, sparking a two-hour gunfight that left three policemen dead, a regional police commander said yesterday.

Ghulam Nabi Mullahkhel said one Taliban was killed in late Saturday's shootout on the Kandahar-Kabul highway, on the outskirts of Kandahar.

"According to our information, about 30 Taliban participated in the attack, and they fled after facing a strong resistance," he said.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's first parliament after nearly three decades of brutal occupation, war and harsh Taliban rule is due to convene today in the final step of a transition to democracy launched four years ago.

US Vice President Dick Cheney will head the guest list at what officials have promised will be a "glorious" opening ceremony in the newly renovated parliament building that was ruined in the 1992-1996 civil war.

Despite concerns about the fact that leading figures from the country's bloody past won seats in the September election, many Afghans are excited about their new step on the path of democracy.

"Finally, we got it. We, too, have got a parliament like others," said Kabul resident Abdul Jabar on a road hung with banners of congratulations for the occasion and promising the war-weary population peace and prosperity.

"I'm counting the moments to see it," he said.

But the central Asian nation's troubled history and lack of significant development since the Taliban was ousted in a US-led campaign in late 2001 have left others jaded.

"I've lost faith in the future," said Ahmad Daud, a former military officer. "As long as I remember, no one has served the country with honesty -- the parliament will just not help."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, elected in the first ever presidential election in October last year, had promised a good life for people "but he was lying," Daud said.

Despite a flood of billions of dollars from the international community after the toppling of the Taliban, most ordinary Afghans still struggle with bone-crushing poverty.

Too young to remember Afghanistan's last parliament convened in 1973 and having never been to school, security guard Mohammad Alam knows little about what to expect from the 351 parliamentarians.

Many of them are anti-Soviet warlords -- several accused of crimes against humanity -- and religious leaders.

Some are former Taliban commanders and there are more than 70 women, whom the Taliban had barred from politics.

"I don't know exactly what they're going to do," Alam says. "But I think they'll work for us," he says, guarding one of the gates to the complex.

Security for today's opening session is high amid fears of an attack by Taliban and other extremists waging an anti-government insurgency blamed for more than 1,500 deaths this year.

The hardline movement claimed responsibility for a suicide blast about 500m from the building on Friday, saying it had been intended for parliament. Only the attacker was killed.

"The parliament has been made up by invader Americans," purported Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf Ahmadi warned last week.

"We'll attack them as we attack the government and invading American infidels," he said.

The US led the invasion that toppled the Taliban after the regime did not surrender al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

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