The Ethnic Cleansing of Pashtuns in Northern Afghanistan
Afghan Truth Commission Requested
KABUL , Afghanistan, 3/10/2002 (AP Wire) :: U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson on Sunday said a proposed truth commission in Afghanistan must investigate atrocities committed by all factions, not just the ousted Taliban.
"It's not acceptable in the context of Afghanistan to look at a partial truth," Robinson told reporters in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
On Saturday, she and Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai endorsed the idea of a truth commission to uncover atrocities committed over two decades of war.
But Karzai's government may be too fragile to withstand an investigation into abuses by those currently in power, especially members of the northern alliance who fought the Taliban but who were themselves accused of human rights violations.
When northern alliance members held power from 1992-1996, they destroyed much of Kabul in factional fighting that killed thousands.
Robinson acknowledged this was a concern, saying Afghanistan must pursue the dual goals of maintaining stability while at the same begin reversing the "culture of impunity and violence."
A human rights conference in Kabul on Saturday was attended by U.N. officials, Afghan leaders and human rights activists, including Bianca Jagger.
Its purpose was to find ways to implement the human rights provisions of last December's agreement in Bonn, Germany, setting up Karzai's interim government. That administration is supposed to rule until June, when a grand council will be set up to choose a new government ahead of elections in 2003.
Many are hoping that last year's routing of the Taliban can reverse decades of human rights violations and start the country on the path to peace. Yet those efforts will likely require forming a viable central government free of factional fighting and warlord rule that still plague much of Afghanistan.
New Evidence of Violence Against Pashtuns
UN seeks to end Afghan abuses
UN Condemns Attacks On Ethnic Pashtuns
Reported by: Charles Recknagel
3/14/2002 (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Prague) :: A recent visit by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to northern Afghanistan has fanned a dispute over the extent to which the ethnic Pashtun minority there is being targeted for reprisals by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. The UN rights chief says she was shocked by victims' accounts during her tour in early March. But the Afghan interim administration says reports of abuses are widely exaggerated.
Reports of violence against northern Afghanistan's minority Pashtun community have appeared in the Western press periodically ever since the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001.
The news reports from correspondents traveling in the area say that the attacks occur as factions that opposed the Taliban have carried out campaigns to disarm the Pashtun in areas the fundamentalist militia once controlled. The north's approximately 1 million Pashtuns enjoyed considerable protection under the Taliban -- a movement which itself was Pashtun-dominated -- and they were often regarded as an enemy by the region's majority ethnic Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek populations.
In late January, "The New York Times" reported that thousands of Pashtuns from the northern provinces of Balkh and Faryab had fled their villages as news spread that ethnic Uzbek and Hazara fighters were looting, raping, and kidnapping, under the guise of disarming Pashtun communities. Some of those fleeing their homes told the newspaper that the goal of the attacks sometimes appeared to be clearing the area of the Pashtuns altogether.
But, as with so many events in Afghanistan, hard facts regarding the number of incidents are difficult to obtain. The north's Pashtun minority is concentrated around the agricultural cities of Kondoz and Balkh, and the reported attacks take place in remote villages visited infrequently by journalists.
That is why many Western observers are now paying close attention to a recent visit to the area by Mary Robinson, the head of the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Robinson traveled to Mazar-i-Sharif, then extended her itinerary to also visit the town of Balkh nearby. The reason for the extension was what she called her "shock" at the number of people who personally told her of violence they had suffered.
Robinson described her trip to reporters yesterday in a press conference in Islamabad. She said that in Mazar-i-Sharif she met with some 30 men who said they were the targets of ethnic-based reprisals. As a result of that meeting, she proceeded to Balkh to talk with several women who said they had been raped in the attacks.
The UN Human Rights chief told reporters, "the violations were extremely serious. Killings, physical beatings, rape of women, taking animals, 1,000 sheep in one village, looting, taking everything out of houses."
In the wake of Robinson's remarks, the Afghan interim administration said yesterday it is taking "very seriously" any reports of ethnic-based violence in the north. Spokesman Yusuf Nuristani said in Kabul that interim administration chief Hamid Karzai had previously dispatched senior investigators to the region to look into the reports.
But the spokesman also said the central government believes the international media has exaggerated reports of the violence. Nuristani said, "There might be some incidents, some minor incidents, because we are coming out of 23 years of war." He also said that three top commanders in the north -- General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ustad Atta Mohammad, and Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq -- have promised to prevent any such attacks from occurring.
Some of the northern commanders themselves also have called the reports of ethnic-based violence and people fleeing their homes exaggerated. Dostum told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service recently that the situation in the north is calm.
"We are surprised, too. Sometimes untrue reports get transmitted. There have also been reports that the security is not good in the north, that there is war between people and factions," Dostum said. "I would like to reassure you that the situation in the north is good, and things are becoming calm."
UN refugee officials say they have been receiving sporadic reports of abuses in the north from refugees fleeing to Pakistan over the past several months.
Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, told RFE/RL today that some 60,000 people have crossed or applied to cross the Pakistani border since the start of the year. He said only a small percentage of that total are from the north, but some of those say they are fleeing ethnic attacks.
"Most of [the refugees entering Pakistan] are desperate Afghans fleeing a lack of food in many remote areas in the countryside. Others are people who report attacks by bandits, and some are minority groups, mainly Pashtuns, who say that they feared reports of ethnic violence or themselves may have been persecuted by groups in the north of the country," Kessler said. "But these people who have brought with them reports of ethnic attacks represent the vast minority of those Afghans who have arrived in Pakistan in recent months."
The UNHCR has expressed concern about the reports of ethnically motivated violence to the authorities in Kabul. The agency also has provided transportation assistance to investigators dispatched to the north by the interim administration to help them better assess the problem.
UN Human Rights chief Robinson called for expanding the multinational force beyond Kabul to help increase security in the country. Speaking in the Afghan capital on 8 March, she said: "I think that the international force that is here must be extended beyond Kabul, and that's very clear when you're here. I'm going to Mazar-i-Sharif on Sunday [10 March], and I know that that's the message that I will be asked to convey, because you cannot have rebuilding of a whole society and security for Human Rights if you have violence, if you have killings, if you have robberies, if you have looting, if you have women terrified."
Robinson also said that a proposed truth commission in Afghanistan should investigate atrocities committed by all factions -- not just the ousted Taliban. The commission, which has been endorsed by the interim administration, would investigate civilian killings and Human Rights abuses committed during the country's past two decades of war.
Vengeance Is Taking Its Toll in Wake of Taliban
Reported by: GEOFFREY MOHAN
BARGAH, Afghanistan , 3/3/2002 (LA TIMES) :: The killing began at 10 a.m. on the 20th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Four hours later, 37 Pushtun villagers had been dragged from their homes and slain by paramilitary forces from the rival Hazara ethnic group.
The roving executioners tore away in four-wheel-drive pickups, leaving no explanation for their pillaging on that day in early December. But witness accounts as well as similar stories from remote Pushtun villages strung across Afghanistan's arid northern plains paint a brutal portrait of ethnically motivated revenge attacks against the group most closely associated with the fallen Taliban regime.
Since December, Pushtuns have been fleeing their villages across the north, long the bastion of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. They began showing up by the thousands in faraway refugee camps on the southeastern border with Pakistan throughout January and February, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
An unknown number are simply blending into other villages or major cities, according to aid workers, U.N. officials and Pushtun villagers who spoke with The Times.
"We're getting reports of 'ethnic cleansing' in the north, where ethnic Pushtuns are being pushed out" by other ethnic groups, said Mohammed Adar, senior emergency coordinator for the U.N. refugee agency in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Another top U.N. official warned that the problem threatens to undermine Afghanistan's fragile peace process.
"There's a very systematic practice, which has happened regionwide, where Pushtuns are being targeted," said the U.N. official, who requested anonymity. "I hear from people in Kabul that the peace process is fragile and we have to protect it. But at what cost? If we don't address this, we are just pruning the branches."
Factional fighting tore Afghanistan apart after the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in 1992 and paved the way for the Taliban to take power. Many fear that with the Taliban gone, the truce among ethnically divided parties whose members worked together to defeat the Taliban is slowly giving way to the era of cyclical massacres and retribution.
That is especially feared here in Chimtal district, where the minority Pushtuns had readily allied themselves with the Taliban.
There is plenty of bitter history between the Pushtuns and Hazaras. Thousands of Hazaras, a minority of the Shiite Muslim sect, were wiped out by the Taliban, who brought a draconian interpretation of the Sunni Muslim faith into a region dominated by a mix of Pushtuns, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras.
A pit outside the northern capital, Mazar-i-Sharif, has revealed hundreds of Hazara bodies, testimony to the Taliban's revenge on them for the thousands the regime lost in battles for the city in the '90s.
Bargah paid for that brutality with 37 lives, according to villagers here.
A crowd of men stood outside the baked mud walls of the village this week, gesturing angrily at the graves of the victims, marked by traditional flags already torn by the cold desert winds.
"I am from another village, and I was a guest here," Mohammed Ghafur said. "I buried a lot of people. When the women looked over the walls, they shot at them. I saw them put a gun in a man's mouth and shoot him."
Inside a home, a woman who goes by the single name Makai held the cap that her son was wearing when he was killed, its embroidered fabric torn open where one of the paramilitary soldiers slashed him with a bayonet. Like many of the women, Makai threw herself between the killers and the victims. But she could save only one son. Her other son and her husband were dragged out and shot.
"They shut all the women in one room, and they shot my husband right outside. And my son they shot in front of the house," Makai said. She clutched her surviving son, Abdul Bashir, 15, and grabbed at the shirt of a village elder, acting out the drama. "When they pointed the guns at my son, I grabbed the commander's collar and said, 'Don't kill him,' " she said.
Village elder Khan Wulus said about 300 men participated in the carnage, also taking three cars, two tractors, a motorcycle and six horses, as well as most of the wheat the villagers had stored. They would have taken a third tractor, he said, but it wouldn't start.
At first, they demanded guns, but the villagers had already surrendered their weapons to an Uzbek militia. Wulus held up a handwritten note from an Uzbek commander.
"These gentle people surrendered their weapons," it read, giving an Arabic calendar date nearly a month before the massacre.
Villagers said that they fell in with the Taliban when the regime swept through the north but that they were never politically active.
"During the Taliban, we were ordinary people, taking care of our cows and crops. We didn't know anything about politics," said Haji Raz Mohammed, a village elder.
Local Hazara commanders avoid questions about who was responsible for the Bargah massacre, even as they blame Pushtuns for past atrocities.
"Yes, that's right, something happened," said Hazara commander Rajab, who controls a large swath of Chimtal district. "But when the Taliban first came, there were 2,000 Hazara families in Chimtal. These Pushtun people killed about 300 Hazara people and put 500 in jail. They looted the Hazara people's houses. They looted my house and knocked down the walls. . . . They killed about 300 people, and we killed maybe 10. We took cattle from dead people, but it was cattle they had taken from us."
Rajab waved off questions of who was responsible for the December killings.
"No one knows who did this," he said. "But these people who are living in Bargah now--in the time of the Taliban, they oppressed people, they looted houses, and they raped people."
After the attack by the Hazaras, Bargah sought protection from the predominantly Uzbek militia led by Gen. Rashid Dostum.
The town's neighbors just five miles northeast, in Tagabi, made a different choice. After an Uzbek militia looted their homes in early December, they requested protection from the Hazaras.
Such choices have become common, as Pushtuns seek shelter with the group that appears to be their lesser enemy and the factional leaders vie for their loyalties--and a larger sphere of influence when the political lines of Afghanistan are redrawn.
Other Pushtuns simply left, although no aid agency here has tracked their numbers. Tagabi lost nearly half its 60 Pushtun families, and the remainder are too afraid to pasture their sheep in distant, rain-fed grasslands where they say Uzbek bandits prowl.
They've resorted to raising a reliable crop that uses less water in these times of drought: the opium poppy, once banned by the Taliban. Villagers showed several acres of the hardy plant, its first leaves already spread out to the size of a hand.
"If it goes on like this, we'll leave and go to the city, someplace where we are secure," said Tagabi resident Abdul Ghafar.
But even Mazar-i-Sharif isn't safe for Pushtuns, aid workers say. Displaced villagers who had set up camp next to another refugee village in Mazar were attacked as soon as the city fell, according to aid workers. Many have wandered off to unknown destinies.
"As soon as the Taliban fell, people attacked them," said Ahmed Idrees Rahmani, a deputy field coordinator for the International Rescue Committee. Most were from Chimtal district, Rahmani said.
"After the fall, the whole population became suspect," he said.
Out in these desert villages, residents are jittery. In one small settlement near Bargah, a Hazara militiaman barely in his teens chased a reporter's vehicle, firing shots at it, while another aimed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, forcing the vehicle to stop.
"I didn't realize you were Americans," the Hazara militia member offered apologetically.
"The situation is dangerous around here," he added.
The Pushtuns aren't the only casualties of warlord feuding. Battles over territory since the fall of the Taliban are claiming victims from all sides, particularly around Mazar-i-Sharif. But although observers here write off the urban violence as jousting among political parties that are at least nominally multiethnic, out in the countryside, the skirmishes smack of ethnic warfare.
"In Mazar, things happen not just because of local politics but generational animosity," the U.N. official said. "Sometimes it's money, and sometimes it's politics. But outside Mazar, it's strictly ethnic."
Warlord's men commit rape in revenge against Taliban