Former Afghan MP and district governor defects to the Taleban

KABUL (AFP) - A former Afghan lawmaker and district governor said on Thursday he had defected to the Taleban as the Islamist hardliners seek to strengthen their influence before United States-led combat troops withdraw next year.

Government officials confirmed that Mr Qazi Abdul Hai had joined the rebels, but dismissed him as a low-level figure whose actions would have little impact.

"I am sure the Americans will be forced out soon and the Islamic Emirate will rule Afghanistan," Mr Hai said, using the formal name of the Taleban, in a video released on the group's website.

"I consulted with elders, and they all encouraged me to join."

Mr Hai was a senator in the Upper House of Parliament for the northern province of Sar-e Pol between 2004 to 2008 and also served as a district governor.

"He defected to the Taleban after a trip to Pakistan some four months back," Mr Mohammad Alam Ezedyar, Deputy Speaker of the Upper House, told AFP.

"The reason could be concerns for his security. We have seen a targeted Taleban campaign assassinating government officials."

Sar-e Pol Governor Abdul Jabar Haqbeen said Mr Hai was previously a member of the Taleban during their 1996-2001 rule, and had resigned as district governor saying he needed health treatment abroad.