For the Sins of the Taliban

The Washington Post, Mar.20, 2002
By Peter Bouckaert and Saman Zia-Zarifi

KABUL -- Achter Mohammed was expecting quite a different kind of welcome when he returned home to Afghanistan from 15 months of exile in Iran. But what mattered to the Uzbek warlords in power in his hometown was that he was an ethnic Pashtun, and probably had brought back some money from work in Iran.

Three Uzbek commanders took Achter Mohammed straight from the bus to their military base and began beating him with heavy wooden sticks, repeatedly leaving him unconscious. They stole everything he had worked so hard for in Iran, including his presents for his family. When they finally released him, he returned home to find everything there gone, too.

"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

Fourteen-year-old Fatima had begged the Hazara soldiers not to rape her, saying she was young and a virgin. One of the soldiers threatened her with his gun, ordering her to undress or be killed. Two different soldiers raped her, and then three others raped her mother. The mother asked why the soldiers were doing these things. She was told "You are Talibs and you are Pashtun." Before leaving, the soldiers beat Fatima's crippled father unconscious, and carried off all of the family's possessions. "There is nothing left for us; marriage and honor are gone," Fatima's mother told us.

For ethnic Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan, it is payback time. They are paying for the sins of the Taliban, simply because most of the Taliban leadership were also ethnic Pashtuns. In the past month, Human Rights Watch has visited dozens of Pashtun communities in northern Afghanistan, personally documenting the devastation. We visited village after village that had been stripped bare by ethnic militias who had sometimes even taken the window frames. We found case after case of beatings, looting, murders, extortion and sexual violence against Pashtun communities.

In one village 37 men had been killed in front of their families because they did not have enough money to buy their own lives. Many of the villages were like ghost towns, abandoned by hundreds of Pashtun families after weeks or months of attacks. And the violence has not stopped. Our sudden arrival scared off two armed Uzbek men who had come to extort money from the Pashtun elders in one village in Faryab province. In Samangan province, 200 miles away, a village elder had been forced to give up his flock of sheep to a local commander the morning of our visit.

The Stakes in Afghanistan

The Washington Post, March 20, 2002

ON THE FACING page today we publish an article that describes an upsurge of murders in villages across northern Afghanistan. The violence, according to authors Peter Bouckaert and Saman Zia-Zarifi, is ethnically based; the alleged perpetrators are associated with the Northern Alliance, which in turn is America's ally in the war on terrorism. The article does not offer a comprehensive picture of what is happening across the very large country of Afghanistan, nor does it purport to. It does, however, offer a worrisome glimpse of what might happen if the United States and its Western allies walk away from the job of reconstruction, as they did a decade ago. And were Afghanistan to implode or deteriorate again into chaotic, warlord-based violence, it's hard to imagine why anyone elsewhere in the world would join with the United States in the next stages of the war against terrorism.

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

Administration officials have been reluctant to commit the United States to "nation-building" in Afghanistan, and for some sound and understandable reasons. U.S. forces are still fighting a hot war in pursuit of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders; it's hard to think about peacekeeping when there is as yet no peace to keep. The United States took the lead in waging war against the Taliban, and will have to lead again in other parts of the world; the notion that other countries should take up the slack once the hard fighting is over has some logical appeal. The longer U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, the greater the danger they will become targets. And Afghanistan, after decades of war, is a wreck, politically, economically, socially; rebuilding will be expensive and time-consuming and wretchedly complex.

Those are, as we say, sound arguments for caution. But none of them outweighs the danger on the other side. The single greatest accomplishment of America's war on terrorism since Sept. 11, or at least the greatest publicly known accomplishment, is the dislodging from power of the Taliban. U.S. forces showed, with skill and courage, that any regime that supports anti-American terrorists must be prepared to pay a very large price. But the beneficial demonstration effect around the world of that lesson will not persist if Afghanistan now sinks into crime and ruin. No sensible person inside or outside Iraq, for example, will stand with the United States in a campaign against Saddam Hussein unless there is reason to believe the United States will help out after he is gone -- will make sure that Iraq does not fragment but rather begins to prosper as it cannot under its current dictator. The best way to convince Iraqis and their neighbors of such steadfastness is to demonstrate it in Afghanistan. The best way to convince them that America is not to be trusted is to shrug at reports of ethnic murders and other atrocities by America's Afghan allies.

The administration so far has argued that its support for the development of a national Afghan army offers the best hope for stability. But such a force will take time to build and train -- years, most likely. In the meantime, the United States must stand up to out-of-control warlords and help extend peacekeeping operations beyond Kabul to other parts of the country where civilians are in danger. If the Afghan people were liberated from Taliban rule only to fall prey to returning warlords, history will not credit the United States with much of a victory.

  • 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
  • Alliance accused of brutality in capture of Kunduz
  • Reports of rape, looting by Afghan militiamen
  • CIA Warns That Afghan Factions May Bring Chaos
  • What will the Northern Alliance do in our name now? I dread to think...
  • No surprise at rumours of new atrocities by our 'foot-soldiers'
  • 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

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