• RAWA's appeal to the UN and World community after the fall of Kabul

  • A gruesome record

    The Northern Alliance may be trying to rebrand themselves, but the people of Kabul are unlikely to forget their past atrocities

    The Guardian , November 16, 2001
    Micheal Griffin

    History has a habit of repeating itself in Afghanistan, however unremittingly grim the past. So this week's rout of the Taliban bears an uncanny resemblance to the flight of Ahmed Shah Massoud's fighters from Kabul in September 1996. Similarly, the UN plan to create a transitional government in the Afghan capital, agreed in New York this week, entailed a hasty search for a blueprint drawn up in 1994.

    "But it remains a fact that from 1992 to 1996, the Northern Alliance was a symbol of massacre, systematic rape and pillage. Which is why we - and I include the US State Department - welcomed the Taliban when they arrived in Kabul. The Northern Alliance left the city in 1996 with 50,000 dead behind it. Now its members are our foot soldiers. Better than Mr bin Laden, to be sure. But what - in God's name- are they going to do in our name?"

    The Independent (UK), November 14, 2001
    Both plans were designed to prevent Kabul becoming the scene of savage urban warfare between factions in loose alliance only to secure short-term goals. The first version failed. After the almost bloodless capture of the capital by the Northern Alliance on Tuesday, many Kabulis fear the second will as well, plunging them back into the nightmares of 1992-1994, when 40-50,000 civilians perished under the bombardment that flattened most of the city, while hundreds of thousands more fled.

    Law and order had broken down within days of the mojahedin entering Kabul in April 1992, after the defection of the pro-government Uzbek general Rashid Dostum to guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud. Dostum's mounted militia from Jowzjan province, who had previously fought against the mojahedin without mercy, fell upon the civilian population, leaving many dead in their wake.

    The factions set up roadblocks every 100 metres, dividing the city into a mosaic of conflicting territories and embarking on a spree of looting, rape and summary execution against their ethnic rivals. Amid the jubilation that greeted the Alliance troops driving into the capital on Tuesday, the refusal of most Kabul women to cast off the hated burka was a potent reminder of the dangers that face those who reveal their faces to hard-bitten fighters from the mountains.

    The fighting in Kabul in 1992 erupted when a council of wise men, summoned by Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, appointed him president of Afghanistan to the outrage of five of the seven faction leaders, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of the Pakistani-backed Pashtun party, Hizb-I Islami. Rabbani, still nominally head of the Northern Alliance, won the support of his own party, the Tajik Jamiat-I Islami, and Ittehad-I Islami, a Pashtun splinter group headed by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who is still a junior member of the Alliance. Fighting alongside Hekmatyar were the Shia forces of Hizb-I Wahdat, now the most influential voice in the Northern Alliance after the Tajiks.

    On February 11 1993, Massoud and Sayyaf's forces entered the Hazara suburb of Afshar, killing - by local accounts - "up to 1,000 civilians", beheading old men, women, children and even their dogs, stuffing their bodies down the wells.

    Sayyaf's other speciality, according to Human Rights Watch, was to take one of the metal shipping containers that litter Afghan cities, fill it with Shia captives, and then light a fire around it. After the conquest of Mazar-i-Sharif in August 1998, the Taliban used the same technique. The sight of Northern Alliance troops escorting Taliban captives in Kabul into the very same cage gave a ghoulish hint of what might lie in store.

    Shia Hizb-Wahdat fighters, led by Karim Khalili, have taken vicious revenge against Taliban captives on the few recent occasions in the past four years that they have won the upper hand. After the collapse of the Taliban attack on Mazar-i-Sharif one year earlier, some 2,000 Taliban prisoners were discovered buried in mass graves. Their deaths were attributed to the Shia and Uzbek defenders of the northern capital.

    10,000 killed in 8 months in Kabul

    November 28, 1993: Felix Ermacora in his report to the UN General Assembly's third committee and also during an interview with journalists, said during the past eight months more than 10,000 people had been killed in Kabul.

    In his report Ermacora noted that in Kabul some 36,000 houses had been partly or fully destroyed and more than 30,000 damaged. Approximately 110,000 families had been displaced and thousands of persons killed or wounded during the battles in and around the city, he said.

    "Numerous cases of rape and ill-treatment by armed persons have been reported.", he said. "A reliable source said that women have never been treated in Afghanistan with such a lack of respect as in recent months".

    The threat to the right to life "has been characterised by massacres of all Afghans, regardless of their ethnic background,", he said.

    The Frontier Post, November 28, 1993

    Some Northern Alliance critics, and particularly Pakistan's President Parvez Musharraf, are disingenuous when they attribute to the former mojahedin factions total responsibility for the disastrous human and infrastructural toll of the civil war period. The greatest contributor to the list of Kabul dead was the Pashtun Hizb-I-Wahdat faction, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Pakistan's main protégé until it switched its support to the Taliban.

    Hekmatyar's missile and artillery bombardment of Kabul, beginning in August 1992, made the US air raids look like brain surgery. A single attack on August 13 killed 80 civilians, injuring a further 150, and such attacks were repeated daily over two years. In two months of intensive rocketing in 1994, 4,000 people were killed, 21,000 injured and 200,000 forced to leave the city. Whatever concerns Islamabad may have expressed about Kabul, it sustained Hekmatyar's demolition of the capital.

    There are strong indications that, even without Massoud, the Alliance's leadership is concerned about its public image. The elite forces currently patrolling the capital were reportedly trained specifically to guarantee the safety of urban populations.

    In the past two months since September 11, viewers have watched as the Alliance's ranks exchanged their shalwar khamis for new combat fatigues and some resemblance to a conventional army. Meanwhile Alliance spokesmen have rebranded themselves as representatives of the United Front, a party of national reconciliation remote from the crimes of the civil war, in which the old factional groupings, they say, are extinct. The people of Kabul live in hope that the change is more than skin-deep.

    Michael Griffin's Reaping the Whirlwind: the Taliban Movement in Afghanistan is published by Pluto Press. griffin_mj@btinternet.com

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