by Ehsan Azari
Afghanistan is one of the countries that war criminals and human right offenders enjoy inexorable impunity as long as they are on the sides of the winner. This is a formula being played out in Afghanistan, the unconscious of the world, a cauldron with the boiling killing and death instincts. This is a place where the East, the West, and Afghans themselves have done for centuries their worst.
On Thursday 1st of February, the Afghan Wolesi Jirga Lower House passed a legislation that grants amnesty for any militia or party member accused of human right abuses in the past quarter of a century. The cruel irony is that some of the legislators themselves are on the Human Rights Watch list accused of war crimes and other human right violations. The legislation of amnesty has to be approved by Mishranu Jirgah Upper House and signed by President Karzai. Even if this never takes place, there is a lot more to it than that. War crimes and human right violence in Afghanistan places a heavy burden on the conscience of the international community.
Even though Ms Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner of Human Right, expressed concerns on this legislation, it is most unlikely that the victims of very serious human right violations in Afghanistan will ever see justice done to their torturers. This controversial law has been voted in under the nose of tens of thousands of NATO troops serving in the country to fight the Taliban-led insurgency, calling into question the alliance mission. Whereas In 1999 NATO vigorously began arresting scores of Serb and Croat military officers accused of human-right violations to stand trial at the Hague Tribunal. Besides such a law that grants impunity for war criminals and human rights violations, is a flagrant breach of the declaration of universal human rights that should belong to everyone, everywhere.
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Crime against humanity in Afghanistan is a tale that has to be told for a thousand and one nights beginning with the communist coup in 1978. The communist regime unleashed gruesome human-right abuses, leaving thousands of Afghans executed en mess. The Russian invasion in the following year opened the gates of hell and put an entire society on trial. It is estimated that one to two million Afghans had been killed during the Russian occupation (1979-1989). The communist intelligence named Khad had flourished a reign of terror, which killed thousands of innocent Afghans, most of them young anti-communist school and university students, government officials, intellectuals and professionals living in cities. In the countryside, peasants, clergymen, and labourers were the main victims. According to Dutch sources, as many as 200,000 people were tortured in different branches of Khad many of whom died.
It is noteworthy that in Pakistani cities, especially Peshawar and Quetta many Afghans, nationalist, monarchist, and intellectuals who fled from the communist clutches had been killed and disappeared under the shadow of Pakistani notorious Inter-State Intelligence (ISI). However the murders and kidnappings—never brought to exposure—were carried out by the extremist Islamic groups.
The second stage in terror began with the exit of the Russians, when in 1992, some groups of the former Mujahideen and the communist top brass in Kabul overthrew the regime. In exchange for their collaboration many of communist polit-bureau and central committee members, generals of Khad, and other bureaucrats managed to flee under the protection of the new government. Some of whom were provided almost a red-carpet treatment in Europe and North America, where they are rubbing shoulders with their victims. A large number of the Afghan reds, especially stubborn Moscow loyalists followed a bee-line to Kabul to join Mr Karzai’s government. Karzai’s army, police, intelligence, parliament, foreign ministry, and foreign missions are their new homes. Afghan intellectuals are eating their hearts when ex-communist bureaucrats give lectures about liberation, human rights, and democracy.
The overthrow of the communist regime resulted in a civil war, in which, according to media report as many as 50,000 civilians had been killed. The protracted civil war and political stalemate offered Pakistani generals and mullahs to spawn a new brand of ultra-conservative Taliban with an aberrant religious ideology.
The third round of gross human right abuses begins with the rise of Taliban. Taliban killed thousands of ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras, and razed to the ground their lands and orchards in the north of the country. Afghan women paid the utmost price for the tyranny of the Taliban. They were virtually taken under house arrest and subjected for five years to all kinds of inhuman treatment.
Taliban called themselves students of Islam, but in reality remained foot soldiers of Pakistani generals, mullahs and al-Quada. During their heyday the shaved ISI officers were roaming about in luxury Pajeros on the streets of Kabul, where the bearded Taliban were lashing men for not growing beards and women for wearing high-heel shoes. Taliban’s ministry of the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue forcefully make people to say prayer, and tortured men for not growing a trade make beard with a fixed length. Officials of the ministry once shaved the heads of the members of a Pakistani football team who wore shorts in a game in Afghanistan. Taliban recklessly vandalised Afghan culture and the warlords of the Northern Alliance sold them out. They blew up 1,600 year old Buddha statues. Over 55,000 priceless artefacts have been looted since 1980.
Then the September 11 attack on the US in New York and Washington took place. The American B-52 fighter jets and the CIA paratroopers ousted the Taliban from power in October 2001. Like hordes of Chinghiz Khan, the warlords of the Northern Alliance, most of them former communist militia and some former Mujahideen groups marched towards Kabul on Taliban’s dead bodies. We have, in the Western media, watched the abject scenes of Taliban corpses being kicked and humiliated by victorious warlords and even locals mobs in the north of the country. The militia of Dostum, an ex-communist militia leader, and now a military strong man and an ally of President Karzai’s government forced an estimated 50,000 Pashtuns to flee their homes in the north of Afghanistan and took refuge in Pakistan. His militia was nicknamed, Gilamjam (literary rug un-wrappers, meaning exterminators) who served as Soviet foot soldiers. In the pre-Taliban civil war, the warlords of the Northern Alliance were fighting the Taliban with a concerted assistance by Russia, Iran, and India. Their loyalty to the US was bought over with a bargain of $70 million. “The primary strategy” Chalmers Johnson writes in his The Sorrows of Empire, “however, was to reopen the Afghan civil war by having the CIA spread some $70 million in cash among the Tajik and Uzbek warlords that the Taliban had defeated.”
There are nonetheless some unlucky Afghan warlords who will never enjoy impunity perhaps because they reached the safety of the West. Amazing! When they are in Europe they are brought to the altar but in Afghanistan they are allowed to be free like birds. Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, an ex-Mujahideen warlord is one of them. He was sentenced to 20 year for torture, kidnapping, and killing scores of civilians in UK. The UK Attorney General said, “Both international convention and English law allow the trial in England of anyone who has committed torture or hostage-taking, irrespective of where those crimes were committed.”
Hessamuddin Hessam, former head of Khad (1983-1991) and Habibullah Jalalzoy, one-time head of Khad’s interrogation department ended up in prison in the Netherlands. Hessam was sentenced to 12 years and Jalalzoy to 9 years imprisonment. Under Dutch law, any one committing war crimes can be prosecuted no matter where they committed the crime.
The legitimate question is why the British and Dutch troops are not doing anything now especially when they are present in Afghanistan in thousands? If they can do it in their respective countries, no reason why not in Afghanistan? God alone knows how many prisoners are facing what treatment in Bagram—Afghanistan’s Guantanamo.
Their American counterparts seem to be more fun-loving: “You go into Afghanistan; you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot fun to shoot them.” Says Lieutenant-General James Mattis who commanded US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The general may be following W. Churchill’s advice: “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas…I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” However, the horrors of Soviet war criminals and human-right abusers in the 1990s would never be exposed.
As common sense suggests, I must emphasise that while the Taliban are being punished for harbouring terrorism and Osama, why Nasirullah Babur, Pakistan’s ex-Interior Minister, enjoys impunity in his luxury bungalow in his country. He once said that the Taliban were his children. It is a pity for a father seeing his sons being burnt. Furthermore, Pakistani newspaper The Frontier Post wrote on 11 October, 1991, “Afghanistan was ISI’s baby”. Babur and even Benazir Bhutto had been reported in media to have possessed some priceless artefacts from the Afghan National Museum. The items were brought to their masters either by former Islamic extremists or Taliban.
This culture of impunity is hurting everyone who has a sense of humanity and a regard for universal moral values. Will the Afghan war criminals and human-right offenders burn out their catalogues of crime once and for all? If everything happens in Afghanistan then the easiest thing will be to punish victims for what their torturers did.
Afghanistan may be doomed in its fate to become the battlefield of ideologies that continue from the outside to purloin the Afghan conscience. War crime and human-right violence have overturned the age-old Afghani humane values. The appalling human-right situation coupled with criminalised economy based on opium production and rampant corruption are cancers that eating away at the lives of innocent Afghans. Many drug lords have strong influence on state bureaucracy. Afghan way of life and ethical code, Pushtoonwali has been stifled by this new perverted tradition. Apart from afore mentioned prison in Kabul, Pulicharkhi is another reminder of the Russian invasion and the Afghani communist dictators. The Guardian Weekly reported on its January 26-February 1 issue that this notorious prison currently houses 1,300 inmates. “More recently, it has been the scene of deadly riots and prison escapes,” the GW adds. One inmate told GW that “the police came after her…demanding 4,000 Afghanis ($80) in exchange for her release.”
Historically, much of Afghan misery and moral apocalypse is a result of its fate as a battleground for foreign ideologies. According to Herodotus, in the area that is now Afghanistan, people had been used to fighting the war between Persian rival emperors, Darius and Cyrus. The last battle to be fought is between the terrorist ideology of Osama and secular Western democracy. Communism was brought to its knees, but we don’t know what would be the denouement of the present ideological Armageddon. God alone knows that Afghanistan’s three decades of devastating war would ever see its own Nuremberg.
Copyright © Ehsan Azari
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