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    "In case of invasion, we can arm ourselves:" Almas Zahid

    KABUL(PAN): Former jihadi commander Almas Zahid, a two-time lower house MP from Parwan province, denied keeping an illegal militia, but added that Afghans can get arms if the country is invaded.

    "We started the resistance against the USSR with our bare hands, and then we got Stingers," he explained.

    Zahid was born in 1960 in the Rabat village of Bagram district in Parwan province. He left school in 1978, when he was in 11th grade, after Haft-e-Saur, or the Saur Revolution, as the communist coup is known.

    During the Soviet invasion, Zahid was a renowned Parwan commander of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, a jihadi party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. During the civil war that followed the Soviet defeat he switched sides, joining Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan to fight against Hezb-e-Islami.

    Under Rabbani's presidency in the 1990s, Zahid was commander of the Fifth Army corps for central Afghanistan covering Kabul, Logar, Maidan Wardak, Parwan and Kapisa provinces.

    Clad in the Afghan dress with a pakol on his head, Zahid received a Pajhwok reporter in his spacious and well-appointed office. The pakol, a traditional Afghan hat, has more recently become a symbol of resistance against the Taliban.

    Zahid said that a few current members of the legal armed forces, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), had worked for him in the past. The current police chief of Kabul, Lt. Gen. Ayub Salangi, for example, served as a commander under him during the war against the Taliban.

    "I don’t need illegal armed men, so I don’t have them," he insisted.

    "But we can find arms if invaded, the way we received Stingers during the jihad against the Soviets," he added.

    Stingers are the anti-aircraft weapons the US provided the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion.

    He expressed pride in his support for the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program, saying that he had told his men to exchange arms for pens and attend school so they could continue to develop and serve.

    Asked about allegations that armed men loyal to him were conducting armed robberies and abductions, Zahid responded, "Many people charged with these crimes have been arrested. Have any of them ever said that I am supporting these crimes?" He said that if the allegations were true the media and police would already have found out.

    He said he had enough money and did not need to abduct people for it and that he had in fact supported law enforcement agencies in bringing kidnappers to justice. He said that allegations to the contrary were part of a conspiracy organized by his rivals, though he did not specify who those rivals were.

    He also called on journalists to consider the national interest and avoid implying that MPs were involved in human rights violations and other illegal activities.

    When asked about the upcoming withdrawal of international forces, he replied that Afghanistan had demonstrated over thousands of years the ability of its people to come together regardless of party, as they did against the Taliban.

    He said he hoped Afghans could come together more quickly now, under the current government, than during the civil war of the 1990s that left thousands dead, destroyed buildings and infrastructure, and forced hundreds of thousands of Afghans to flee the country.

    Zahid supports the reconciliation program and asserts that no group should be excluded from the government. He said the Taliban, too, should be included in Afghan politics.

    He said he had entered political life and run for Parliament at the request of Parwan residents, who also financially supported his campaign. His campaign cost about $42,000 total.

    The MP has two wives, five daughters, and six sons, and has owned businesses and exported raisins to Russia in the past. He said his sons run businesses, and his own wealth is around $10 million.

    When asked about a construction partnership in a Kabul township he was involved in with the Afghan-Iran Company, he said it had been a bad experience, and that the Iranians had escaped with thousands of dollars they had collected from home buyers. Zahid said he paid the home buyers back.

    Zahid leads the Saba Parliamentary group, which was established during the second Parliamentary term and has 38 MPs as members. He believes the special election court that recently disqualified 62 MPs based on a vote recount is illegal and has affected not only Parliament but the entire government. "The cabinet is incomplete and the three powers are paralyzed by the special court," he said.

    He said he believes the political crisis was an enemy plot against Afghanistan and added that the government should waste no time to resolve the situation and address public concerns.

    "Having a strong government in Afghanistan raises questions about presence of the international community here. In order to protect their material interest, the international community struggles to undermine our government at any cost," he says.

    Asked about the security transition, he responded that Afghan security forces should be well-trained to ensure public security before foreign troops depart.

    He did not rule out that cabinet ministers may have bribed MPs in an attempt to secure positive votes. He said, "I have neither paid nor received any bribes to become MP."

    Admitting to having failed to fulfill campaign promises, he blamed poor government planning and the economic dependency of the government.

    His constituents want schools and paved roads, he said, adding, "I have not spared anything to serve my people, but nothing that can satisfy me or my constituents has been accomplished."

    He claims he meets 100 to 200 of his constituents daily in Kabul and the neighboring province of Parwan. He says he likes to read books and exercise but seldom has time, though he reads history books before going to sleep.

    He likes Afghan music and would watch the American televisions show "24" if he had more time, he said.

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