Institute for War and Peace Reporting, January 9, 2007


Child kidnap case highlights Afghan warlord power

Kunduz residents say human rights count for little after a young girl was allegedly kidnapped for the prize of a fighting dog.

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

"The girl who was exchanged for a dog" has become a sensation around the world, sparking outrage in human rights circles. But the canine connection is a minor part of the story, a curiosity that served as a hook to bring the case to public attention.

Gulsha, Sanobar's mother cries while talking to journalists.
Gulsha, the suffering mother of Sanobar accuses Malom Zafar (district chief) and Commander Mehmood, a local warlord, to be linked with the crime. (RAWA photo)
Movie Clip of Gulsha ( http://www.rawa.us/movies/gulshad.wmv ) | RAWA report ( http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2006/11/05/sanobar-11-years-old-girl-is-abducted-and-raped-by-warlords.html )

It appears that 11-year-old Sanubar and her mother may have been the victims of a tradition where females are regarded as chattels, and of a climate of instability and weak central government in which armed men behave like local sovereigns, immune to punishment.

The case has been muddled by mutual accusations and denials. What is clear is that Sanubar disappeared after being taken from her home by force in August.

"Armed men broke into my house at midnight and took my daughter," said Sanubar's mother, Gulshah, 50. "They cut me with a knife. I have filed complaints with the attorney general and with the governor, but nobody is helping me."

Gulshah insists that her daughter was taken by Mullah Nazar, the district government chief of Ali Abad district, the area of Kunduz province where she earns a meagre living tending livestock.

Nazar is a former militia commander who belongs to the Jamiat-e-Islami faction which is dominant in northeast Afghanistan. The militias attached to such factions - many of them originally mujahedin groups from the Eighties - were supposed to have been disbanded and disarmed long ago under United Nations-sponsored schemes, but their commanders still exercise considerable power in their home regions.

According to Gulshah, Nazar handed her daughter over to a man named Nematullah, and received a prize fighting dog in return. Kunduz residents say Nazar then presented the dog to a more powerful commander in the region as a form of tribute.

Nazar's version of events is different. He denies any involvement in the kidnapping, saying that it was Nematullah himself who took the girl. Nematullah apparently regards himself as the girl's father-in-law, since she was promised to his grown son when she was an infant. His son, now 40, is deaf and suffers from mental problems.

"She was betrothed to a 30-year-old man when she was just six months old," said Nazar. "Then the family did not want to marry her off to him. Nematullah is the one who has kidnapped her, not me."

Gulshah denies there was any marital arrangement, but neighbours say its existence was common knowledge in the area. They say Sanubar's father engaged his daughter to Nematullah's son, but Sanubar's father subsequently died and Gulshah repudiated the deal.

According to this view, Nematullah took Sanubar away – or arranged for someone to do so – because he felt it was his right.

Sanubar's fate is still unknown. Her mother believes she has been taken to Pakistan.

Nematullah is also outside Afghanistan. According to Gulshah, he is with her daughter.

Gulshah has appealed to the provincial governor and to human rights officials, but to no avail.

"There are powerful warlords involved in this case," said Mohammad Zahr Zafari, who heads the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's branch in the northeast. "For this reason we have not been able to do anything to save the child. A number of our employees were threatened when they investigated this case.

Zafari told IWPR that the girl is in danger, "We have been told that she is not in good health."

The governor of Kunduz, Engineer Omar, rejects any suggestion that Sanubar was the victim of warlord aggression, as charged by her mother and the human rights commission. He insisted that the girl was taken by her fiance.

The governor vigorously defended Nazar, saying, "If anyone can prove that the district chief is involved in human rights violations, I will personally hand him over to the law. But he is totally innocent."

He downplayed the paramilitary links of those allegedly involved in the incident. "These people are former warlords but they have given up their guns," he said. "The former commanders do have influence over people because they are respected due to that previous status. But we have never faced a situation where a commander has possessed independent armed power, or has been cruel to people."

The human rights commission disagrees.

"Warlords violate human rights," said Zafari. "But we have no authority to investigate. The government and these commanders say that the girl's former fiancÚ took her, but it is a fact that she was kidnapped by armed men at midnight and then exchanged for a dog."

While the case has grabbed international headlines, it has hardly raised an eyebrow in this northern corner of Afghanistan. Residents say that the situation remains largely unchanged from the days when Afghan militias held sway, kidnapping and looting as they saw fit.

"The warlords may have been disarmed technically, but their power has quadrupled," said Ali Ahmad, a Kunduz resident. "They have found other sources of influence such as drug trafficking. They control the whole country, and if they want a girl, they take her. Anyone who opposes them is killed, and no one from the government or from human rights organisations will investigate."

Sanubar's mother is still trying to rescue her child.

"I love my daughter and I want her back," cried Gulshah. "And I want the men who did this to be punished."

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