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IWPR, December 8, 2010

Afghans fearful of their protectors

Now, some residents of western parts of Afghanistan are saying abuses by armed militias are already happening

By Zia Ahmadi

HERAT, Afghanistan -- A NATO plan to arm local militias so that they can protect villages appears to be backfiring, with these commanders harassing, robbing and even killing local residents.

The idea of recruiting villagers into local defense programs is a key part of the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan. But the plan, known as the Village Stability Program, has been controversial from the start, given the country's history of conflict involving unaccountable paramilitary groups. The early 1990s, in particular, saw the mujahedin groups that had earlier fought Soviet occupation turn on one another in a bitter civil war. Earlier this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his strong opposition to the program for that very reason.

Now, some residents of western parts of Afghanistan are saying abuses by armed militias are already happening.

In Ghor province, Hajji Fazel Ahmad of the Tiora district said the local police took no action after his 18-year-old daughter was raped by a militia member.
"The incident happened when two of my wives had gone to the house of one of our relatives to pray at a funeral. The man took the opportunity to enter the house by force and rape my daughter," he said. "I am asking government officials to restore the honor I have lost." But because these local militias appear to be sanctioned by the central government, local law enforcement officials say they are powerless against them.
IWPR, Dec. 8, 2010

Mullah Naim, 35, from Badghis province, said his family had been targeted by members of a local militia because it fears he would expose its links to the Taliban. After his mother was killed and his stepmother wounded in an attack on his village, he and the rest of his surviving family fled to a secret location.

"The militia force attacked my house because I know about their activities and their relationship with the Taliban," Naim said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location. "In recent months, the militia has been reporting movements by Spanish troops and the national army (in Badghis) to the Taliban, who launched operations based on this intelligence."

Sharafuddin Majidi, spokesman for Badghis governor, Delbar Jan Arman, said an investigation was under way into the killing.

But Hajji Qari, the former local government official, said such militias armed by the foreign forces had already created serious instability.

And Lal Mohammad Omarzai, the head of Shindand district in Herat province, said he is concerned about a group of 200 men in the Zerkoh area, whom he said had been armed by NATO forces.

"People in various parts of Shindand are complaining about the behavior and treatment of the tribal militias," said Omarzai. "The government should either increase the number of police, or train these individuals and register them within the framework of the police. Otherwise, things will get very worrying."

An official in Shindand district, who asked to remain anonymous, said, "At the beginning of this year, three Afghan translators were killed in Zerkoh under mysterious circumstances. Investigations showed that tribal militia members were behind it. Since they'd been armed by the foreign forces, we were unable to conduct further investigations."

Abdorrahman, a militia commander in Shindand, denied his forces had harmed or harassed civilians.

"Personal animosity may lead these men to act illegally on occasion, but they will be prosecuted," he said, adding that he believed the militias were important for maintaining security. "Since the tribal militias were created, the Taliban's activities have decreased and armed robberies have been stopped."

In Ghor province, Hajji Fazel Ahmad of the Tiora district said the local police took no action after his 18-year-old daughter was raped by a militia member.

"The incident happened when two of my wives had gone to the house of one of our relatives to pray at a funeral. The man took the opportunity to enter the house by force and rape my daughter," he said. "I am asking government officials to restore the honor I have lost." But because these local militias appear to be sanctioned by the central government, local law enforcement officials say they are powerless against them.

"Sometimes these individuals are involved in instability, armed robberies and cooperation with the armed opposition, but since central government has taken the decision (to create them), we are unable to confront them," said a security official in Tiora district, who asked that his name not be used out of concern for his safety.

Basir Ahmad, a doctor in Shahrak district, also in Ghor province, recounted how he was attacked by armed men while traveling in a car three months ago. He and the other passengers were robbed of their possessions.

"A few days later, two militia men who were wounded while fighting the Taliban were brought in to my clinic," he said. "When I looked at them, I saw that one was the thief who robbed me and the other passengers. When I told police about it, they told me to keep silent if I wanted to remain alive."

Zia Ahmadi is a reporter in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site: www.iwpr.net. For information about IWPR's funding, please go to http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?top-supporters.html.

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