A Tribe Is Prey to Vengeance After Taliban's Fall in North

The New York Times, Mar.7, 2002

NAZRA, Afghanistan, March 3 One after the other, the villages in the valley of Shor Daryab stand all but empty.

Nazra and Guljosh, abandoned. Ghaforbai and Babakzai and Daulatzai, gutted. Attan Khoja, a mishmash of lean-tos and caves and half-crazed hangers-on.

"Armed political factions in northern Afghanistan are subjecting ethnic Pashtuns to murder, beating, sexual violence, abductions, looting, and extortion"

"The factions clearly can stop the abuses by their local troops when they choose to, but given their past record, it would be foolhardy to rely on them to restore security and protect human rights."

"In Balkh province, ethnic Hazara Hizb-i-Wahdat forces were involved in several execution-style murders of Pashtun villagers."

Human Rights Watch, Mar.3, 2002

"Go this way, and you will see that all the villages are empty," said Amir Jan, a lone man searching for truffles near a lifeless town.

Until recently, the 10-mile valley near the border with Turkmenistan was inhabited almost exclusively by ethnic Pashtuns, the group that formed the core of the Taliban movement.

The Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, but a minority here in the valleys and plains of the northwest.

They lived in clusters, away from the more numerous Uzbeks and Tajiks, and when the Taliban fled the area last November, the Pashtuns suddenly found themselves hunted and alone.

The Pashtuns of northern Afghanistan are fleeing their villages by the thousands now, telling tales of murder and rape and robbery, and leaving behind empty towns and grazing grounds just beginning to shimmer with the first grass of spring.

Some refugees are living in caves; others are heading south, to where their ethnic brethren still dominate. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of Pashtun villages have been looted.

Reports like these inspire proposals by the interim government in Kabul for a security force to police areas outside the capital, proposals that the Western allies are reluctant to accept.

One of those who has caught the full fury of revenge against the Pashtuns is Muhammad Yosin, a farmer from Attan Khoja who fled his village when the Uzbek gunmen came and now lives with his family in a cave.

On a crinkled piece of paper he carries a handwritten list detailing what they stole: new carpets 4; old carpets 4; mattresses 6; cups 12; plates 6; teapot 1.

"I have 100 witnesses who would swear I am not a Taliban supporter," said Mr. Yosin, a tiny man with a long beard, "and still they took everything I own."

The persecution of the northern Pashtuns opens a new chapter in Afghanistan's tangled history of ethnic relations.

For decades, northern Afghanistan peacefully cradled its many groups, jostling together the Pashtuns, the Turkmen and the Hazara with the dominant Tajiks and Uzbeks. Then came the Taliban, ethnic Pashtuns drawn mainly from the south and inspired by a vision not only of extreme Islam but also of Pashtun supremacy.

"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
When the Taliban swept across northern Afghanistan in the late 1990's, they focused their fury on minorities, massacring thousands. The Taliban often gave favored status to their local brethren, setting aside the choicest lands for their farms and cattle.

Now, it appears, the newly dominant are exacting their revenge, from Herat in the west to the outskirts of Kabul in the east, where Kuchi nomads are too afraid to bring their sheep to their historic grazing lands on the Shamali Plain. Much of the mayhem seems to be unfolding before the gaze of America's wartime allies, the Uzbek warlords who took over when the Taliban collapsed.

More than a dozen Pashtun villagers along the Shor Daryab blamed an Uzbek warlord named Hashim, who led the force that took control of the area in November.

Seated on the floor of his office in nearby Faizabad, Mr. Hashim seemed a harmless figure, a smiling man with a beard. Above his head hung a framed portrait of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Russian-backed Uzbek mercenary and regional leader, and a letter of appreciation for Mr. Hashim's help in subduing the Taliban.

Asked about the thousands of Pashtuns who have fled their villages, he dismissed them with a wave, saying, "They are Al Qaeda."

It is not clear to what extent the attacks on Pashtuns have been politically orchestrated, and to what extent they are spontaneous revenge.

A United Nations official, who declined to be identified, said of the anti-Pashtun campaign: "It has been systematic and wide scale. Rapes are far more common than killings, but the serious looting is very pronounced. With the change in power, it is time to settle old scores."

No one knows how many Pashtuns have fled their homes, or how many villages have been sacked. The United Nations says 50,000 Afghans have gathered at camps near the Pakistan border, many of them northern Pashtuns and Kuchi nomads.

In Faryab Province, where the Shor Daryab runs, field workers with the International Organization for Migration said they had distributed food to more than 2,000 displaced Pashtuns living in tents and caves.

Until recently, Attan Khoja formed a network of mud-brick Pashtun hamlets nestled alongside the Shor Daryab, a once-formidable river that years of drought have reduced to a gully. The breathtaking valley, framed by undulating green hills, provided the grazing grounds for the herds of sheep, camels and cows that kept the villagers alive.

According to villagers still left in Attan Khoja and some who fled, the Taliban abruptly retreated from the province's main precincts on Nov. 9, the same night that opposition forces expelled the Taliban from the key northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif. The next night, the villagers say, Uzbek soldiers led by Mr. Hashim swept through, gathering up all the guns.

Like many Pashtuns left in Faryab Province, the people of Attan Khoja say they neither supported the Taliban nor benefitted from their rise to power.

It is, of course, richly ironic that the first achievement of the war on terrorism has been to install in Kabul the Northern Alliance, for whom terrorism has been the entire line of business and way of life for more than 20 years.

Re-enthroning Northern Alliance President Rabbani - who has been fighting against any form of secular modernisation of his country, however moderate, since the early 1970s - was on no one's list of aims on September 12.

Andrew Murray,
The Guardian, Nov.16, 2001

The next night, the villagers say, the Uzbeks returned, yelling and shooting and dragging men from their beds. Some women were raped. Nearly everyone was robbed, animals were seized, carpets carted off. Three men resisted; they were shot.

"We have the women sleeping in the donkey stables," said Gul Muhammad, a 55-year-old shepherd. "When the men with guns come, we cannot protect them."

After that first night, the Uzbeks came again and again, the villagers said, always demanding money and valuables at the points of their guns. After each attack, more and more villagers left. When the survivors of Attan Khoja had nothing left to give, the Uzbeks ripped the beams and frames from their mud-brick homes.

While none of the villagers' claims could be verified, today the village of Atan Khoja stands in ruins. It is mostly an eerily quiet place. Door and window frames have been torn away, and most of the roofs are gone. Many of the remaining families have carved caves from the nearby mountain walls, where they live with the few possessions they have left.

The stragglers who have stayed seem to have paid a price for their stubbornness. A bedraggled woman named Gul Dana sat outside her cave mumbling to herself, unable to remember the names of her sons and bemoaning her ill fortune.

"We have nothing, we have nothing, no carpets to sit on," Gul Dana cried, fingering her head scarf. "I think it is time I sold my veil."

The people of Attan Khoja seem befuddled by their fate, but a drive north along the Shor Daryab offered something of an explanation. A few bumpy miles up the road, the hamlet of Daulatzai stood silent but for a pair of shepherds grazing their animals on the hillside. They were Uzbeks from over the hills, and they reveled in the novel experience of leading their sheep to the finest lands in the valley.

"During Taliban times, we would have been beaten for trying to bring our sheep over the hills," said Lal Muhammad, 25. "The Pashtuns were arrogant, and they were cruel."

He pointed to one of the few intact houses: "See the window frames and the roof beams? They are mine. I am not going to take them back, but they are mine, and they took them from me when the Taliban came four years ago."

Across northern Afghanistan, the pattern repeats itself. In the middle of a grassy plain southwest of Shibarghan, Kuchi nomads clamor over their few remaining sacks of rice. That very morning, they said, Uzbek gunmen had come in search of loot. When they found none, they grabbed one of the young men instead.

"They took my son! They took my son!" howled Shah Pairy, pulling the veil away from her face.

Two miles down the road, Abdul Shakur, a 21-year-old Uzbek farmer, guided an ox across his fields for the first time in four years. The Taliban had seized his lands when they conquered the area, he explained, and now he was taking them back. If some Pashtuns were suffering now, well, Mr. Shakur said, it was time they were repaid, wasn't it?

Ethnic Pashtuns Flee N. Afghanistan

AP, Feb.21, 2002
By LOUIS MEIXLER, Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Thousands of ethnic Pashtuns are fleeing northern Afghanistan , claiming that anti-Taliban commanders have been inciting people to loot their homes and in some cases, kill Pashtuns, a U.N. spokesman said Thursday.

Meanwhile, a French aid organization issued an urgent appeal for more food aid in northern Afghanistan.

In recent days about 20,000 Afghans, mostly people fleeing drought, hunger and ethnic strife, have fled to Chaman, a crossing point on the Afghan-Pakistani border, said U.N. spokesman Yusuf Hassan said.

"It is a very disturbing picture of gross human rights violations," he said. Hassan did not give a breakdown of how many were fleeing ethnic tensions and how many were seeking food.

The Taliban, who were ousted from power last year, were dominated by Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The U.S.-backed northern alliance was largely Tajik and Uzbek.

The reports add to concerns that post-Taliban Afghanistan may be unable to rein in the ethnic, tribal and personal rivalries that have riveted the Central Asian nation for more than two decades.

People fleeing northern Afghanistan "say that commanders in those areas are instigating the locals to rob them and kill and harass the Pashtun population," Hassan said.

The United Nations has complained to the interim government, Hassan said, but "many of those areas are areas where there is no national authority."

Large parts of Afghanistan are controlled by local warlords. The national government has no army.

A U.S. official said Thursday that the Central Intelligence Agency is warning in a classified analysis that Afghanistan could descend into civil war because of fierce competition for power among rival warlords.

There is agreement within the U.S. government that the country's security could be bolstered by setting up an Afghan army, a national police force and an effective legal system.

But there is disagreement within the U.S. government over whether to expand an international peacekeeping force, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the State Department favored the expansion but the Pentagon (news - web sites) was reluctant to take that step.

Britain leads a 4,500-member international force and has the largest contingent of peacekeepers.

Hardly a day goes by without another reminder of the country's volatile peace.

Gunmen opened fire on a British patrol in the Afghan capital of Kabul and the British returned fire, a peacekeepers' spokesman said Thursday. It was the second such incident in less than a week.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side as a result of the brief exchange of gunfire Wednesday night between British peacekeepers and local Afghans, said Jonathan Turner, a spokesman for the British-led peacekeeping force.

"They had just stopped their vehicles when they were fired upon," he said.

Last Saturday, members of the same British regiment opened fire on an Afghan car that witnesses say was carrying a pregnant woman. The peacekeepers said they heard gunfire and fired in response. Afghan witnesses say the shooting, which killed a local man, was unprovoked.

The French non-governmental organization Doctors Without Bordersissued an urgent appeal Thursday for more food aid in remote areas of northern Afghanistan.

A statement from the group described dire conditions at a displaced persons camp in northern Faryab province, where it said mortality rates, malnutrition and the number of internally displaced people are rising sharply.

"In northern Afghanistan, a new disaster is in the making and can only be averted by immediate and unrestrained action," said the group's operational director, Christopher Stokes.

Also Thursday, U.S. military officials took a group of elders from the southern province of Kandahar, including the province's governor, on a tour of a U.S.-controlled airport to prove the runways were too bomb damaged to allow for flights of would-be Islamic pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage.

More than 4,000 Kandahar residents had each paid $1,600 for government hajj packages, only to be told the airport was unusable for large passenger planes.

Ibrahim Khalil Xar, who identified himself as a doctor in Kandahar participating in Thursday's tour, said the elders were satisfied that the United States was telling the truth about the runway.

The government's inability to transport all pilgrims to the hajj came to the forefront last week when the civil aviation minister was slain at Kabul airport.

Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai blamed the death of the minister, Abdul Rahman, on a personal feud within his administration.

On Wednesday, however, Foreign Minister Abdullah publicly discounted those claims, saying Rahman was killed by a crowd of would-be Islamic pilgrims angry over flight delays to Saudi Arabia.

In an apparent attempt to play down reports of division within his government, Karzai told Associated Press Television News on Thursday that he and the rest of the Cabinet back the foreign minister's position.

However, he did not back away from his initial claim that someone was behind the killing.

"The investigation is going on. We know who did it," he said. There was no explanation for the apparent contradiction.

  • More reports/photos of the NA bloody rule from 1992-96 Part 1 | Part 2 | Photos
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  • Crimes of the "Northern Alliance" Seen Through the Eyes of a Grieving Mother
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  • Reports of rape, looting by Afghan militiamen
  • CIA Warns That Afghan Factions May Bring Chaos
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  • Many Afghans haunted by Northern Alliance's past
  • Hundreds of Pakistanis believed massacred
  • UN Reports Mazar-e-Sharif Executions
  • Kabul residents fear northern alliance, worry for their safety Kabul

  • h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g