Ex-Guantanamo detainee now campaigning in Afghanistan

SOROBI, Afghanistan (McClatchy) — In a country whose young parliament is filled with warlords, suspected drug barons, one-time mujahedeen fighters and religious zealots, Izatullah Nasrat Yar can still make history.

Hiztullah Yar Nasrat has set out to become the first “enemy combatant” once held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to become an elected Afghan lawmaker in this fall’s legislative elections.

After nearly five years in America’s controversial prison, Yar is one of 2,500 candidates who are running in a September election that’s expected to be a barometer of the nation’s political maturity.

“I believe there is no need for fighting now,” Yar said in an interview at his family-run gas station on the road between Kabul and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. “This is the time to fight with the pen and words. This is the time to put down the weapons.”

In many ways, Yar’s personal odyssey is emblematic of the larger political morass that’s ensnared the United States in a costly nine-year war to stabilize Afghanistan.

Not far from this gas station, Yar’s journey to Guantanamo began on March 1, 2003, when U.S. forces turned up at his home to ask some questions. Yar left his house with American forces, expecting to return within the hour.

It was more than five years before he saw most of his family again.

In his youth, Yar served as a local commander for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami, one of two main insurgent groups that fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with U.S. backing and are now allied with the Taliban.

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    Nuristan region of Afghanistan July 2010
    I wanted to write to you directly regarding my upcoming trip to Nuristan, a remote province in Afghanistan. I will be trekking for over three weeks as part of a medical team in to the mountains of this inaccessible area to deliver medical care to the people living there. Working in conjunction with the International Assistance Mission (www.iam-afghanistan.org), an organisation that has been working in Afghanistan for over forty years, I will act as the team doctor and run the mother and child clinics once inside Nuristan. The expedition team also includes an eye doctor and a dental surgeon as well as me as the general physician.

A female British doctor is understood to be among at least 10 people murdered by gunmen in the far north of Afghanistan on Friday. The group included eight foreigners – one of them a Briton – six Americans and a German working for a project run by a small Christian aid organisation called International Assistance Mission (IAM).

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility saying the attack was on “Christian missionaries” who were carrying bibles. It is possible the Taliban were simply exploiting early media reports about killings they in fact had nothing to do with.

A British doctor called Karen Woo was known to be on the expedition and played a major part in organising it, including by running fundraising events in London and Kabul to pay for the “Nuristan Medical Expedition 2010 “.

Woo, from London, had established an organisation called Bridge Afghanistan to help run medical projects in the country. Writing on the expedition’s Facebook page, Woo described herself as the team doctor and said she would run the mother and child clinics inside Nuristan. She wrote that the team also included an eye doctor and a dental surgeon.

According to IAM the group were returning from a several week long trip to provide basic health in a remote area of Nuristan province when they were attacked by gunmen in a forested area of Badakhshan, the most north-eastern of Afghanistan’s provinces.

Their bullet-riddled bodies were discovered by local officials on Friday next to three shot-up vehicles.

Dirk Frans, the director of the Christian organisation, said IAM had last been contacted by the group via satellite phone on Wednesday.

In a short statement on its website, the organisation said the victims were likely working on the organisation’s “eye camp team” project in Nuristan at the invitation of local communities and were returning to Kabul when they were attacked.

The 10 bodies were found in the Kuran wa Munjan district in the province of Badakhshan near the Pakistan border. Badakhshan has traditionally been one of the safe provinces of Afghanistan to travel in, as it largely sat out the civil war – it was the one corner of the country never captured by the Taliban. That said, local trouble can easily flare – international NGOs were briefly targetted in early 2004 for alleged improprieties with local female workers; German ISAF soldiers have also been attacked for photographing local women. Badakhshan is one of the centres of Afghanistan’s opium industry, and smuggling is rife along the Tajik border.

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    "But I will not let myself be reduced to silence."

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