A former Afghan senator and district governor has defected to the Taliban in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol, possibly the highest-ranking Afghan civilian official yet to have joined the jihadist group, the BBC reported Thursday.
Qazi Abdul Hai, who served as a senator from 2004 through 2008 and later became a district governor in Sar-e-Pol, is believed to have defected to the Taliban along with two of his bodyguards earlier this week.
Hai also appears in a video posted on the Taliban website in which he describes himself as a former mujahideen fighter and says that in his four years as a senator in Kabul he saw what he describes as "the corrupt face of the government."
"I saw that a lot of cruelty and corruption carried out by the government people towards the Afghan population. Our villages were bombarded and our houses were searched by the invaders," he says on the video.
Afghan government officials have played down the significance of Hai’s decision to switch sides.
"His defection does not have any impact on his people in the district, because he was not a very influential person," Abdul Ghafore Dastyaar, deputy governor of Sar-e-Pol, told the BBC's Jafar Haand in Kabul. He claimed Hai had left Afghanistan and is currently in Pakistan.
Abdul Khabir, a former Afghan member of parliament from Sar-e Pol who knows Hai well, said the former senator had links with the Taliban from the time they were in power (1996 through 2001).
He added that Hai had influence in some 20 to 30 villages in the district.
With elections scheduled next year, the Taliban might want to use Hai to disrupt the process “in the local areas where he has loyal followers," Khabir said.
Last year there were a number of well-publicized defections to the Taliban among Afghan police, with a commander and 13 junior officers joining militants in western Farah province in late July.
Eleven U.S.-trained policemen defected a few weeks later in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, taking with them 11 AK-47 rifles and two heavy machine guns, McClatchy News reported.
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