Mutilated Afghan farmer regrets going to vote

KABUL (Reuters) - Lal Mohammad, a 40-year-old Afghan farmer, was one of millions of people who defied Taliban threats against voters and set out to cast his ballot in this month’s presidential election. But he soon regretted his defiance.

Lal Mohammad, a 40-year-old farmer, speaks to reporters at a hospital in Kabul, August 31, 2009. Lal Mohammad was one of millions of Afghans who defied Taliban threats on August 20 and set out to vote paid for his decision with a savage mutilation. REUTERS/Oleg Popov

Fighters ambushed Mohammad as he was walking to a polling station and cut off part of his nose and his ears.

The Taliban vowed to disrupt the Aug. 20 vote, threatening reprisals against voters and staging scores of rocket attacks and several bombings across the country on election day.

The threats and violence failed to stop the election from taking place, but they do seem to have hurt turnout in some areas, especially the Taliban heartland in the south.

Mohammad, speaking haltingly in a hospital in the capital, Kabul, described how militants stopped and searched him while he was on his way to a polling booth.

They beat him with the butt of an assault rifle after they found his voting card.

Then they took out a knife.

“I saw one reaching my nose with a knife. I asked him to stop, but it was useless,” Mohammad said.

“I regret very much getting the card and going to vote.”

Election officials have reported scattered incidents in which militants cut off voters’ fingers stained with indelible ink.

The ink was meant to prevent multiple voting but it also helped the militants pick out people who had cast their ballots.

A Taliban spokesman denied before the election that an order had been given to mutilate voters.

Mohammad described how he lay bleeding and unconscious for several hours, coming to only after a man from his village spotted him and put him on the back of a donkey.

But with no proper health care facility in remote Dai Kundi province, Mohammad travelled for three days over mountain tracks and dirt roads by donkey and car to reach the capital.

After answering some questions, Mohammad, apparently exhausted, slumped back onto his hospital bed.

Like two thirds of Afghans, Mohammad does not read or write.

He said he did not even know who was running for office when he went to vote but had been excited by the prospect of casting a ballot to help choose a president.

A doctor said Mohammad needed plastic surgery and weeks for his treatment and recovery.

Mohammad said he hoped the government would look after his family until he got better.