US & World

Ex-Guantanamo Detainee Seeks Office In Afghanistan

Izzatullah Nusrat is the only former Guantanamo detainee running for Parliament in the Sept. 18 election.
Izzatullah Nusrat is the only former Guantanamo detainee running for Parliament in the Sept. 18 election.
Quil Lawrence/NPR

Izatullah Nusrat, 42, was held at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo for nearly five years. Now he is back in Afghanistan and running for election to Parliament in the Sept. 18 election. Nusrat has harsh words for Americans, but he favors working with the current government over the Taliban and says he wants the fighting to stop.

It's election season in Afghanistan, and both the Afghans and the international community can only hope this one will go better than last year's balloting, when President Hamid Karzai won re-election through a process widely denounced as fraudulent.

So far, not many clear themes have emerged in the campaign for the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections.

But one candidate has an interesting distinction: He is the only former Guantanamo detainee running for office.

Anti-American, Anti-Karzai Sentiment

Campaigning is in full swing, but that's not what is bringing people into the streets these days in Kabul. Anti-American sentiment is strong in Afghanistan, particularly among people outraged over recent incidents in which civilians have been injured and killed.

It's a current many politicians might like to harness. And there may be no candidate better positioned than Izatullah Nusrat, a 42-year-old village elder from Sorobi, east of Kabul.

Nusrat says he used to believe the Americans were good people. But that was before U.S. soldiers arrested him and his 80-year-old father in March 2003 and sent them to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"When they took me to the airplane, when they shaved my beard, I realized that Americans are the most cruel people in the world, and they're very stupid. Someone whose crime is not proved, so you destroy his whole life. And in the world you claim that you are the protector of the human rights, and you're doing such actions with a human being," Nusrat says.

Nusrat admits he did once work with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former mujahideen warlord who once enjoyed American support against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Nusrat says it has been years since he had any connection with the warlord, who is now leading a large insurgent faction.

Years At Gitmo

He made that denial hundreds of times during interrogations in Guantanamo, enduring, he says, solitary confinement and many other privations.

After almost five years, American authorities declared that Nusrat was no longer a threat, and he and his father were released.

He says Karzai is an American puppet, but that's slightly better than the return of the Taliban.

"There are two ways: One is the Taliban way and one is the government. So I choose the government way. I think it is a better way of serving to the country and to the people," Nusrat says.

As a candidate, he has the potential to tap support from like-minded Afghans.

Earlier this month in Kabul, hundreds of mostly young women and men turned out for an anti-American rally, spurred by a traffic accident in which an American defense contractor's SUV crushed an Afghan car, killing six of the passengers inside, including two women and two children.

Sohil, a 26-year-old student, says the rally sought to condemn the American killing of civilians and the U.S. support for what he calls the incompetent Karzai government. He doesn't stop there, repeating a conspiracy theory that the U.S. is also supporting al-Qaida.

The crowd also condemned neighboring states Pakistan and Iran for interfering in Afghan affairs. The main organizer of the protest is a party that calls itself Hambastagi (Solidarity), which does not back anyone in the upcoming election.

'A Better Way Of Serving'

Nusrat says his community in Sorobi welcomed him like he had returned from the dead.

But not everyone in this part of the country wishes him well. The Taliban has threatened many candidates and election workers.

Sorobi is considered the most dangerous spot on the highway between Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad. Nusrat did not want to be seen on the street with a foreigner, so he sat for an interview in a small room by a gas station owned by his family, with a Kalashnikov rifle leaning on the wall next to him.

It would be a stretch to say that Nusrat has much of a platform. He wants the Americans to leave, but not in such a way that the country falls into chaos. Mostly, he says, he wants an end to the fighting. He cites an Afghan proverb: "Blood cannot be cleaned with blood."

He's in favor of negotiating with the Taliban. And if he wins election, his unique resume as member of Parliament and former Guantanamo prisoner might just make him the sort of politician who can help the peace talks get started.

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