HERAT, Afghanistan — It was supposed to be a grand moment for President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan — the opening of a new trade corridor that brought his landlocked country a link to Europe through Central Asia, and promised him some rare positive news as a re-election campaign approaches.
But what grabbed the headlines after Thursday’s event was chaos and violence.
Members of the president’s staff, in front of hundreds of people, assaulted a young member of the crowd who wanted to hand a petition to the president. Videos posted on social media in the days since portray an even more chaotic scene, with the president screaming at and slapping one of his own aides for mistreating the young man.
Mr. Ghani’s elite guards, the Presidential Protective Service, continued to assault the man once he was taken out of the president’s sight, footage suggests, and he remains in detention.
It was not an isolated incident. Those who guard senior Afghan officials — undoubtedly a difficult task in one of the most dangerous countries in the world — have repeatedly assaulted civilians, including journalists. In most cases, there is no indication that anyone was held accountable, further fueling a widespread culture of violence with impunity.
The meeting this past week, attended by diplomats and dignitaries, happened in the western city of Herat, where Mr. Ghani inaugurated what is called the Lapis Lazuli Corridor. The corridor makes it possible for Afghanistan to export its goods to Europe through Central Asia — a priority for Mr. Ghani not just to boost his own trade, but also to build regional consensus around peace in Afghanistan.
As Mr. Ghani finished his speech at a packed hall and walked from the stage, Raees Wafa, 18, stood up in the crowd and shouted that he wanted a minute with the president to give him a petition about injustice against his own family, video from the event shows.
The young man was unlikely to have posed an immediate physical threat — before being allowed near the Afghan president, he would almost certainly have gone through multiple checks by the Presidential Protection Service.
Participants said Mr. Ghani walked toward Mr. Wafa, apparently to tell him it was not the time for such a petition as he had to entertain foreign dignitaries. A cellphone video circulating on social media shows the moment after: Mr. Ghani appears to be screaming and smacking someone.
“The young man said injustice had been committed against him and he wanted his voice heard. At his moment, Mr. Ghani’s guards or his protocol people covered the guy’s mouth and were trying to take him outside,” said Toorkhan Zarifi, an elder from Herat’s Shindand District who was at the hall.
“The president got near his staff and he was angry,” he added. “He slapped one of his own men in the face and body and then left the hall.”
Despite Mr. Ghani’s anger at how the young man was treated, his guards did not let go. Another cellphone video that came out a day after showed senior members of his guards dragging the young man by his collar into a military vehicle.
Afghan officials said the elite guard’s priority is the protection of the president in a country where even the most secure corners have been infiltrated for assassinations. The guards make split-second decisions to subdue potential threats. It was possible from the way the young man had behaved that he was causing a distraction for what could be a bigger plot, they said
“The principle on which the president’s guards are advised to act is that they should never do anything against the law and that they should never use violence against the people,” said Shah Hussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for Mr. Ghani.
Dunya Gul, the brother of Mr. Wafa, said that a local strongman had grabbed the family’s land in Paktia Province. They were forced to flee their homes seven years ago to settle in Herat and have not been able to get justice. His brother had taken it upon himself to raise the family’s voice with the president.
“The guards of the president took him out of the hall and beat him up outside the hall,” Mr. Gul said. “The intelligence agency has been holding him since.”
Afghan officials would not comment on why Mr. Wafa remained in detention, or on what charges.
“He is a civilian and wanted the Afghan president to listen to him, but the president’s bodyguards beat him,” said Bellal Sidiqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, urging the government to investigate the incident and hold the guards accountable.
“The Human Rights Commission is concerned about the increase of such violence in Afghanistan.”
Mohammad Saber reported from Herat, Afghanistan, and Mujib Mashal from Bangkok, Thailand. Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Source: Read Full Article