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Institute for War & Peace Reporting, September 13, 2007

For residents of the northern province of Takhar, there are worse things than the Taliban

"Commander Piram Qul kidnapped my wife while I was away in Kabul helping my sick brother," he said. "I have no idea what has happened to her. I went to every office, complained to every official, but no one will help me. They are all afraid of Piram Qul."

By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Takhar

While attention focuses on fighting in southern Afghanistan, there are parts of the north where the law is made not by Kabul, but by militia commanders who use violence and intimidation to maintain their hold over the civilian population.

An IWPR investigation in the northern province in Takhar has revealed a succession of stories of abduction and brutal assault. A militia commander denied any involvement, while officials said merely that people should use legal channels to pursue their complaints – no easy route when local institutions tend to favour the strong over the weak.

At a national level, the Afghan government appears unwilling or unable to curb the "warlords" – and some argue that it ignores the problem at its peril, as these strongmen not only rule the roost on the ground but have been allowed to permeate and influence the institutions of state.

Habib Rassoul, a resident of Takhar, cannot talk about his wife without tears of grief and rage. For the past three months, he has had no word of her.

Daulat Bibi, 40, told IWPR that she was raped by 13 men working for a local commander.
"I was hospitalised for one and a half months," she said. "I went to the district governor's office, but no one listened to me. Those who raped me walk free, and the government did not even bother to arrest them. I went everywhere, but people told me, ‘There is no law that can do anything against these commanders. Just forget it."
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, Sep.13, 2007

"Commander Piram Qul kidnapped my wife while I was away in Kabul helping my sick brother," he said. "I have no idea what has happened to her. I went to every office, complained to every official, but no one will help me. They are all afraid of Piram Qul."

According to Habib, the kidnapping was intended to punish him for attending a demonstration in April against the dominance of local militia commanders in the province.

"The government is lying when it says it's in control of the country," he said bitterly. "There is no government here, just local commanders who control our destinies. NATO and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] are busy in the south, and they have left us in the clutches of local commanders who are more dangerous than the Taliban."

Takhar, in the far north of Afghanistan on the border with Tajikistan, receives little attention from the Kabul government or the foreign military forces in comparison with the violent and volatile southern provinces. While ISAF and the Afghan National Army fight pitched battles against the resurgent Taliban in Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and other southern provinces, Takhar like other northern areas has remained relatively quiet, and has consequently been left to its own devices.

During the early Nineties when the mujaheddin who had fought the Soviets were in control, Takhar held by Jamiat-e-Islami, one of the most powerful factions in the Northern Alliance. While Jamiat has made the transition from armed grouping to legitimate political organisation, Takhar residents complain that many of the strongmen on the ground have not ceded control and are still using their influence and their guns to rule the province.

"I have been threatened with death six times by these local commanders," said Habib. "You can go to every office, from the lowliest civil servant right up to the governor, but they cannot act against the commanders because they are scared of them. We don't know where to turn."

Habib is one of hundreds of people who claim to have been victimised by "warlords" in Takhar. Most of the people interviewed for this report would not give their names and appeared to be in fear of their lives.

Fraidon, victim of warlords crimes
RAWA Photo: Fraidon, the 7-year-old boy was abducted and brutally murdered by Pirm Qul in Takhar.

One man, 31 years old, held pictures of his two sons, aged eight and six. He wept as he told his story.

"Commander Piram Qul took my two sons from my home last year. He killed them, put their bodies in a sack and dumped them in the river," he said , tears pouring down his cheeks.

He claimed that the murders were retribution for his own continuing protests against local warlords.

"Piram Qul told me when he took my sons, ‘This is your punishment for your propaganda against the commanders," he said.

"I went everywhere. I wanted justice. I wanted to avenge the murder. But everyone told me just to forget it. No one listened to me."

Mullah Piram Qul was a powerful Jamiat-e-Islami commander in Takhar before the beginning of the nationwide disarmament programmes that followed the ousting of the Taliban regime in late 2001. According to Piram Qul himself, he had 5,000 men under arms at the time.

Now he is a member of Afghanistan's parliament, one of nine representatives from Takhar who sit in the legislature in Kabul and help shape the country's future.

Piram Qul rejected all allegations that he is implicated in abductions and killings.

"That is a complete lie," he told IWPR. "These accusations are false. The people who are accusing me are either Taliban or have connections to the Taliban. They are just trying to cause a rift between the central government and the former commanders. They are trying to provoke the mujaheddin to act against the government, and to weaken the regime."

Piram Qul insisted that he had no gunmen under his control, and that he had handed all his weapons over during the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) and DIAG (Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups) programmes.

DDR and DIAG, part of the generously-funded Afghan New Beginnings Programme backed by the United Nations, sought to reduce the number of men with guns and break up the paramilitary groups they belonged to. But even the proponents of these programmes admit that the lofty goals that were set initially have not been achieved.

Piram Qul was adamant, however, that he had made the transition from militia commander to parliamentarian.

"I am a representative of the people," he said. "I am with the government, and I work within the framework of the law."

Anyone with a case against him was welcome to seek legal redress, he added.

"Let them prove their charges," he said. "Nowadays we have laws, police, attorneys and courts. Accusations made outside these institutions are merely an attempt to heap blame on someone."

Takhar's provincial governor Latif Ibrahimi agreed.

"If someone makes an accusation, the government has clear procedures for doing something about it," he told IWPR. "When a crime is committed, there is the district governor, there is the chief of police, and there are courts. People should go through these channels, and the government will act in accordance with the law."

The governor denied that his administration was in any way intimidated by the commanders.

"We implement the law equally for everyone," he said. "We are not under the influence of the commanders. But we cannot punish people on the basis of accusations. The accuser has to prove his charge."

Victims say that the government is unwilling or unable to help them.

Daulat Bibi, 40, told IWPR that she was raped by 13 men working for a local commander.

"I was hospitalised for one and a half months," she said. "I went to the district governor's office, but no one listened to me. Those who raped me walk free, and the government did not even bother to arrest them. I went everywhere, but people told me, ‘There is no law that can do anything against these commanders. Just forget it."

Human rights organisations confirm that the government does not seem capable of resisting the power of the commanders, and that people with grievances often have little recourse.

"These people are really unfortunate," said Mohammad Zahir Zafari, head of the northeastern division of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "In the past these commanders destroyed their houses. But now the commanders get appointed as district governors, police chiefs and so on. Where are people supposed to go to defend their rights?"

Zafari's organisation receives an average of four complaints a week against commanders, he said. But in most of the cases where formal charges are brought, the courts decide in favour of the commanders.

Political analyst Qayum Babak: "Everyone knows that the government of Karzai has been very soft on the local commanders over the past six years, and this has encouraged them to try to regain their lost power," he said. "These commanders have taken advantage of Karzai's leniency, and have grown like a cancer. They will choke the life out of the Karzai government."
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, Sep.13, 2007

"Five months ago, one of the minor commanders raped a 10-year-old boy in Bangee district," he said. "The child was injured, with a perforated bowel. But when the child's father tried to sue the commander, he had no success. The commander used his money and influence, and the whole matter was decided in his favour."

There were hundreds of such cases, he added, concluding, "It is a disaster here."

A member of parliament who did not want to be named said that the commanders were a law unto themselves.

"Every single former commander has created his own local government in the districts," said the parliamentarian. "They do whatever they please, with no regard for the law. No one, including the institutions of central government, can do anything without the permission of these local commanders.

He cited an example from Takhar's Chah Ab district, where the appointment of a mayor was opposed by a local commander.

"The mayor was run out of his office immediately after he got in," he said . "The commander told him, ‘I have been governing here for years, and I have the power. Anyone who wants to be appointed needs to get my permission first. Not like you.'"

There were many similar cases, added the parliamentarian. "That's just a snapshot of the whole problem," he said. "There is a government within the government here."

Abdurrahman, a shopkeeper in Rustaq district, showed his scarred stomach as he told his tale of violence and intimidation.

"There's a former Jamiat commander who owes me 12,000 he said," he said. "He used to shop in my store. But every time I tried to bring it up with him, he threatened to kill me. I was beaten with a gun just for asking for my rights.

"When I saw that no one was paying any attention to me, I just said to hell with it. I don't know who to complain to. Wherever I turn, I still see that the only law comes from the barrel of a gun."

Nor is the problem confined to the outlying districts. Mohammad Ehsan, 25, is a resident of Takhar's capital city, Taloqan.

"I was engaged to Najiba, who was 20 years old," he said. "Two months after we got engaged, a commander took my fiancée by force. Now she is his wife. I have been threatened and told not to pursue my case. Neither the government nor the girl's family will listen to me, because they are all afraid of the commander."

Political analyst Qayum Babak, the editor of Jahan-e-Nau newspaper, blames the president for allowing the militia leaders to survive and prosper.

"Everyone knows that the government of [President Hamed] Karzai has been very soft on the local commanders over the past six years, and this has encouraged them to try to regain their lost power," he said. "These commanders have taken advantage of Karzai's leniency, and have grown like a cancer. They will choke the life out of the Karzai government."

Former commanders now have positions of influence within the government, which they can use to their advantage, he said.

"They have used their positions to make laws that prevent anyone from putting them on trial," said Babak. If we look at the situation realistically, these commanders make the law, they are in the executive, and they control the provinces. So where are the poor people to turn?"

While the attention of the president and the foreign forces is directed towards the south, the commanders are extending their reach in the north, he said.

"Both the government and NATO think that the real danger is the Taliban, and that these commanders are not a threat," he said.

"But I want to tell them that these commanders will paralyse the central government. They are more dangerous than the Taliban."

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter based in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Category: Warlords, HR Violations - Views: 9928


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