Afghanistan Justice Project is a
human rights organization. Our goal is to expose human rights
violations, and by doing so exert pressure on international
donors, international and Afghan policy-makers and government
officials to account for the crimes of the past.
In addition to
the reports AJP will publish, AJP publishes opinion pieces. We
also make available on this website analytical articles written by
members of our staff that explore aspects of the conflict in
setback for Afghan justice
By Patricia Gossman
First published in the
International Herald Tribune
KABUL: The fledgling efforts toward establishing the rule
of law in Afghanistan took a great leap backward last month. In
secret, President Hamid Karzai ordered the execution of Abdullah
Shah, a man who could have revealed atrocities committed by one of
Karzai's closest advisers.
was executed, he said that he was responsible for war crimes
during Afghanistan's civil war in the early 1990s but that he had
been acting under orders. With his death, the truth about some of
the horrors of Afghanistan's past - and who in the top leadership
might have ordered those crimes - has been buried.
Shah, who was
convicted of several murders including the killing of an infant,
died April 20, but the execution was made public only after
Amnesty International condemned it. Shah was widely known to be a
commander under Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the leader of a militia that
human rights groups say was involved in mass rape and the
disappearance of hundreds of people.
interviewed Shah in jail in February, he did not deny his part in
war crimes, but said Sayyaf gave the orders. He did not ask for
release or claim that he was innocent - only that he be
transferred to the custody of another ministry where he might have
some protection from what he said were plans to silence him.
Shah is far
from the only person to describe atrocities. I have also
interviewed women who describe in detail the actions of Sayyaf's
troops in the civil war: one saw her small son die while militia
members raped her. I have interviewed men held in makeshift jails
at Sayyaf's headquarters in Paghman, west of Kabul. Those who
survived say they bought their way out. These survivors describe
how their less lucky fellow prisoners were forced to dig their own
graves before being shot. Human rights observers told me that Shah
had offered to show them exactly where these mass graves in
leaders, and their American supporters, prefer for now that the
victims of Paghman and the rest of the past remain buried, lest it
imperil "stability." But it is a vicious circle: Efforts to bury
the past aggravate the very security risks cited as reasons to
avoid addressing the past. In Afghanistan, those who benefit most
from the international community's silence on accountability for
war crimes include many powerful figures with links to criminal or
extremist networks, or both.
defeat of the Taliban, Sayyaf has had extraordinary power over
Karzai. Shortly after the interim government was established in
December 2001, Sayyaf leaned on Karzai to appoint as Supreme Court
chief justice Mawlavi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, an extremely
conservative former head of a religious school in Pakistan.
Shinwari has since appointed like-minded mullahs as judges across
Afghanistan, with the power to ban any law they deem contrary to
the "beliefs and provisions" of Islam.
In a revealing
move, Shinwari said that Shah should be executed, even before the
trial was over. And the trial, Amnesty International said, fell
short of international standards: Shah had no defense counsel and
witnesses were not subject to cross-examination. The execution,
Amnesty said, "may have been an attempt by powerful political
players to eliminate a key witness to human rights abuses."
argues that by executing Shah he was serving the cause of justice,
or the wishes of the Afghan people, he is fooling himself. But
Afghanistan's donors should not be fooled. There is no doubt many
of Shah's victims wanted to see him executed, but they also want
the truth to be known about everyone responsible for war crimes in
mujahedeen both within Karzai's administration and outside it have
grown powerful as the world has shut its eyes to their crimes. The
international actors involved in Afghanistan's reconstruction need
to send Karzai an unequivocal message before national elections
are held: Cover-ups cannot bury the truth for long. What Afghans
want from the international community is assistance in disclosing
the truth. As long as the truth is buried in Afghanistan, any hope
for the future will be jeopardized.
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government of warlords threatens Kabul
By Patricia Gossman
Thursday, October 16, 2003
KABUL: Finally some good news on Afghanistan: the UN Security
Council has given approval for NATO to expand its peacekeeping
Hamid Karzai, along with the United Nations and other agencies
working in Afghanistan, have been calling for an expanded force for
over a year. But it will be months before extra troops are actually
on the ground, and so far only Germany has committed forces.
renewed conflict and instability within Karzai's government threaten
to undermine prospects for a peaceful and democratic election next
year. Without an immediate change in strategy by the United States,
extra peacekeepers will be far too late to turn things around.
announced his candidacy for president in elections due to be held
next summer, key members of his cabinet seized the moment to signal
their intention to cut ties with him and field their own candidates
- among them some prominent leaders suspected of war crimes during
the early 1990's. Though Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim denied that
any revolt was in the works, it is clear that the Northern Alliance
faction from the Panjshir Valley known as Shura-i Nazar, which
controls all the key ministries in the government, has a political
agenda of its own.
has something that none of the warlords can claim: popular support.
Until now he has never used that support to build a political base
that could draw in more representative leaders from across the
country and loosen the grip of the warlords. Whether he can stand up
to the Shura-i Nazar will depend not only on his own political
acumen but on political support from the United States.
claim some kind of success in Afghanistan, the Bush administration
may well short-change democratic reform once again. The loya jirga
that elected Karzai as president last year was simultaneously an
unprecedented achievement of grassroots democracy and a betrayal of
the very principles of democratic process.
More than 80
percent of the elected delegates supported Karzai as president. But
the stage-managed appointment of the cabinet, engineered by the
United States and the Shura-i Nazar, left many delegates feeling
More than one
Afghan has told me that the last thing they wanted was a government
made up of the same warlords who oversaw mass killings, rape and the
destruction of much of Kabul in the early 1990's. A year after the
loya jirga, senior UN officials finally acknowledge that a critical
opportunity to move away from the warlords was squandered for the
sake of short-term stability, driven principally by the mistaken
belief inside the Pentagon that it needed these warlords to defeat
Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
opposite has resulted. In the past few months, a resurgent Taliban
has mounted an increasing number of attacks both on coalition forces
and on humanitarian organizations operating in the south and east of
the country. The Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group,
dominate in these areas; it was from these villages that the Taliban
The fact that
the Shura-i Nazar-dominated transitional government has
systematically excluded Pashtuns from significant roles has fueled
resentment and is creating easy recruits for the Taliban. While not
all Pashtuns support the Taliban, the Pashtuns' alienation from the
current power structure in Kabul is unlikely to encourage them to
resist the Taliban's return. And despite the promises of the
Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, little has been done to curb
Pakistan's support for the Taliban, whose leaders move freely in
border areas of Pakistan - among them the former army chief of
staff, who has a long record of massacring Afghan minorities.
threat from the Taliban and Al Qaeda is only half the story.
Karzai's rebellious cabinet includes a number of political leaders
whose records on war crimes rival those of any Taliban. Several have
maintained armed militias inside Kabul in violation of the Bonn
Karzai do to marshal public support in his favor against this crowd?
He should take heart from the public response to last month's
land-grab scandal, when government officials accepted public land to
build homes and dispatched bulldozers to raze the huts of
impoverished locals. Even Kabul's cautious press condemned the
officials of abusing human rights.
at last year's loya jirga who supported Karzai because they believed
in real democratic reform have not disappeared. Many have carried on
unofficially in their districts. They should have had the support of
the United Nations long before now, but the United Nations, like
Karzai, has too often bowed to the Shura-i- Nazar.
group of former delegates met in Jalalabad about a year ago, the
Shura-i Nazar pressed Karzai to condemn the group as Pashtun
separatists. They were anything but. Groups like this from across
the country are precisely the people Karzai needs if he is to build
a popular and pluralist political base to counter the warlords.
Pentagon continues its short-sighted approach, backing the warlords
in the cause of fighting terror, it will find itself right back
where it started in Afghanistan. The Taliban will grow stronger, the
warlords in the government will consolidate their hold on other key
positions, and the Afghans will lose once again.
the United States and the rest of the world signal clearly that war
criminals of any stripe have no place in Afghanistan's future
government, then the many Afghans who gambled on hope when they
voted for democratic change a year ago might just have a chance.
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