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Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
June 2002

(download PDF version - 20 pages)
Key Sections

I. Introduction

II. Subversion of the loya jirga process

III. Threats to women's security and their rights

IV. General Insecurity and Lawlessness

V. External Factors in the Reemergence of the Warlords

VI. Conclusion and Recommendations

  • Halt assistance to the warlords
  • Expand security forces
  • Counteract the influence of warlords during the loya jirga process
  • Institute a system of accountability for violations of human rights in Afghanistan

Related Material

A Human Rights Watch Question and Answer on Afghanistan's Loya Jirga Process
April 17, 2002

Afghanistan: History of the War
Backgrounder, October 2001

"Taking Cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan,"
A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, May 9, 2002

Afghanistan: Human Rights Watch Key Documents

IV. General Insecurity and Lawlessness

Interference with the loya jirga process is only one element in a broader pattern of abusive behavior and intimidation by warlords in southern Afghanistan. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, local residents and independent observers described a general absence of the rule of law or any accountability for those in power.

In Zabul province, witnesses described an administration that had changed only nominally since the Taliban, retaining, for example, the heavy-handed religious police and the Taliban's school curriculum. They portrayed a profoundly repressive administration that offered little or no prospect of participating freely in a political process.

For instance, M.D., a thirty-five-year-old ethnic Tajik resident of Qalat district of Zabul province, described the beating and detention of Agha Mohammad, a local Tajik landowner who had been a Jamiat-e Islami commander during the mujahideen period and now supported the loya jirga process. M.D. pointed out that the three ethnic Tajiks who were detained on the day of the loya jirga meeting in Qalat were relatives of Agha Mohammad.

Four days ago, in the evening, local police under [deputy provincial police chief] Mohammad Wali, arrested Agha Mohammad in the bazaar. Then they entered his home, and searched it and arrested his two brothers: Faiz Mohammad, thirty-five years old, and Taj Mohammad, thirty-eight years old.

All of the city [bazaar] people saw Agha Mohammad being arrested. He was beaten in public view. And in police custody, he was beaten black and blue. Permission has not been granted to any of the city people to visit him in custody, but we know of his treatment from two sources: a police officer in the station and a personal friend who works there. They said they were in a separate room, and heard the sound of whips. They said they were astonished that the man [Agha Mohammad] wasn't shouting, when he was being beaten so severely. In the morning, they came to know that he had fallen unconscious.

Although Agha Mohammad's brothers were subsequently released, Agha Mohammad remained in custody as of May 27, 2002.56

An Afghan journalist described an attack by agents of the Ministry of Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, which was responsible for maintaining social control (especially over women) during the Taliban's rule. The Ministry seemed to be operating again in much of Zabul province. He told Human Rights Watch what he saw on May 19, while trying to interview people in the Qalat bazaar about their feelings about the loya jirga process:

When I put the microphone in front of a person [in the bazaar], I saw a group of Vice and Virtue people pulling a guy by force who was selling tape recorded cassettes. They tore down the placards in front of his shop, laid him face down, and started beating him.57

In Kabul province, Sanzari residents told us they were concerned about Habibullah, their local warlord. One resident told Human Rights Watch, "Because of his record, in the past, it is better that he is not involved."58 Several witnesses, who only spoke after being shuttled out of Sanzari itself, suggested that Habibullah was involved in extortion, looting, and sexual violence. In comments endorsed by all, they explained:

One of the things that he has done is that he had roadblocks, and he would take bribes, and he has forced people to give him money. And not only did he take money, he took double what other commanders took. He has forced beardless boys [adolescent boys] to his command post for sexual purposes. These were examples of the worst atrocities.59

Kandahar city itself appeared relatively secure at the time of first-stage elections. Still, there were several reports concerning violence and looting by gunmen employed by the local government.

A businessman told Human Rights Watch that he had been robbed and beaten in his house by men in "government uniforms." This account was confirmed by members of the loya jirga commission observation team who were familiar with the case.

I was taking a nap in the afternoon when I heard a knocking at the door. My younger brother went and opened the door. The moment he opened there were many soldiers - gunmen - wearing government uniforms, as the police. They put the gun on my brother not to move. And many others entered into my yard. At this time, my wife informed me that there are some solders in the yard. I put on my clothes. I went out, and they ordered me not to move and told me that there are Arabs and Al Qaeda in your home, and we are searching for them. I told them that there are neither Arab nor Al Qaeda groups inside my house, and I have no relation with them, and I asked them, "Who are you?" And they told me that "we are members of the intelligence services of Afghanistan, the Amniat-e Melli." And then they fastened our hands, and after searching all around our house, took 151,000 rupees, and 30 million Afghanis. And after beating us they left the house and told us not to shout and not to move.60

The businessman said that local authorities had not pursued the case. "They have done nothing. They have neither arrested anyone nor given security... All the businessmen have no feeling of security. It's the same thing that always happens."61

Interviews with local professionals and officials yielded a similar description of the conduct of local troops on the streets of Kandahar. The manager of one of Kandahar's hospitals explained:

They [soldiers] steal everything they get their hands on. Sexual relations between men and boys are still around. They still are around like it was under the Taliban. Their conduct is still the way it was under the Taliban. They do not understand the value of what has happened in the past few months. They are driving fast in their cars, making the streets unsafe, they are smoking hashish, and smoking even opium, and stealing everything around them.62

A regional manager of an Afghan humanitarian aid group, responsible for humanitarian assistance throughout the southern region, compared the insecurity in Kandahar with the relative security of Kabul:

We can see the situation inside Kabul, where there is peacekeeping. If you compare Kandahar and Kabul you will find a very big difference. In Kabul you can see how people are living, how they go to their work, around the streets, the roads, going to their offices.... But here in Kandahar it is very different. They must send some more security here.63

A senior member of the loya jirga commission observation team suggested that commanders in Nimroz were engaging in extortion on the road. He told Human Rights Watch that on the road through Nimroz, duty or "tax" was extorted by local commanders in three different places.64 And in Nadali district in Helmand province, loya jirga commission observers confirmed incidents of insecurity on the roads.

Three boys, each about eight or nine years old, were killed when they were on their way to school. They were wearing turbans, and the police, army men, stop the three guys and asked them: "why have you put on turbans?" And then they shot them. Two were killed, and one was not. This is a confirmed case. We confirmed this.65

56 Human Rights Watch interview with M.D., Kandahar, May 26, 2002.

57 Human Rights Watch interview with Journalist N.

58 Human Rights Watch interview with Sanzari residents, in Kandahar city, May 28, 2002.

59 Ibid.

60 Interview with businessman from Lui Wala neighborhood in Kandahar, May 26, 2002.

61 Ibid.

62 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Shah, manager at Mir Wais hospital, Kandahar, May 26, 2002.

63 Human Rights Watch interview with the regional manager of an Afghan humanitarian agency, Kandahar, May 25, 2002.

64 Human Rights Watch interview with Observer H.R.

65 Human Rights Watch interview with Observer Q.