Clashes erupt in Kabul over reburial of long-dead king

Clashes broke out in Kabul on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, between supporters of Afghanistan’s Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, left, and a group trying to rebury the remains of King Habibullah Kalakani, at right, who was hanged in 1929.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Fighting broke out in the Afghan capital Thursday between supporters of Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum and a group attempting to rebury the remains of a long-dead monarch whose short-lived, despotic rein ended with his hanging in 1929.

Fighting erupted in the early afternoon, when supporters of the vice president, an ethnic Uzbek, opened fire on pallbearers carrying the remains of King Habibullah Kalakani, a Tajik, near the Shahrara area of the city, wounding five people, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported.

On social media, eyewitnesses posted photos of a pock-marked wall and a bleeding victim. They said shooting lasted for about 25 minutes.

At issue is the burial site for Kalakani, known disparagingly as Bacha-i-Saqao, or “son of a water carrier,” and viewed by many in Afghanistan to be an illiterate bandit who toppled a reformist monarch and, during his nine-month rule, obliterated efforts to modernize the country.

For 87 years, he has lain in an unmarked grave below the burial site of the country’s ethnic Pashtun dynasty — including the ornate, black marble mausoleum of King Nader Shah who had him executed — on Maranjan hill in Kabul.

Recently, Kalakani’s supporters, mostly ethnic Tajiks like him, have attempted to reform his image as a devout Muslim who, like many Afghans, was appalled at the reforms of then-King Amanullah Khan. They demanded he be reburied somewhere more reverential.

A burial commission had decided on a burial at Shahrara hill in central Kabul, said Haroon Mautarif, head of the commission. But Vice President Dostum’s supporters, mainly ethnic Uzbeks who consider the site a part of their heritage, objected, and another site was selected.

Streets in parts of Kabul had been closed off for much of the day to protect the ceremony as participants processed from a mosque to the new burial site. But, after praying at the mosque, several Kalakani supporters angrily took the remains toward Shahrara hill, Mautarif said.

Saleh Mohammad Registani, a former parliament member who was participating in the burial ceremony, told 1TV that Dostum’s supporters wounded five people. Dostum’s spokesman Bashir Ahmad Tahyanj said one Dostum supporter was shot and later died. However, the Kabul police could not confirm those reports of casualties. The clashes ended around 4 p.m., said Faraidon Obaidi, head of the criminal investigation branch of the Kabul police. Officials were on the scene to resolve the issue between the two sides, he said.


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